June tends to be the busiest month for high-school students … and Supreme Court justices. That’s when students take their finals, and the justices issue their final rulings on the year’s most important cases.
Ten years ago this month, the Court issued its decision on Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. Media coverage zeroed in on the fact that Dale, who wanted to be a Scoutmaster, was gay. But the point of the case was the Scouts’ successful defense of their organization’s right to free expression under the First Amendment.
“We are not, as we must not be, guided by our views of whether the Boy Scouts’ teaching with respect to homosexual conduct are right or wrong,” wrote then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist for the majority.
It boiled down to whether a private organization enjoyed the right to choose its own leadership. That wasn’t the first time Scouting took a tough stand to defend traditional American rights, and it surely won’t be the last.
The Boy Scouts of America was founded in my hometown of Chicago 100 years ago, in 1910. BSA obtained a congressional charter six years later. The goal has always been to help mold boys into men by teaching them survival skills for outdoors and correct behavior for indoors.
Scouts believe in setting goals and achieving them, so the BSA reports its achievements to Congress every year. Last year alone, Scouting inspired some 1.1 million Americans to volunteer their time, and provided educational programs for 2.7 million young people.
Furthermore, the Scouts’ “Good Turn for America” national service initiative has devoted “more than 8.5 million community service hours to issues that address hunger, inadequate housing, poor health, the environment, and emergency preparedness since the program began in February 2004,” according to the group’s annual report.
The memory of my time in the Boy Scouts is a treasure. I know it helped me to succeed in life. Our troop did much more than learn how to tie two half-hitches -- although that skill still comes in handy. I also learned to keep myself, per the Boy Scout oath, “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
In living the Scout Law, the boys in the program today and all the men who have graduated from it exemplify the best America has to offer. “Lives of purpose are constructed on the conviction that there is right and there is wrong,” then-President George W. Bush reminded the Scouts at the 2005 National Jamboree in Virginia. “Indifferent or cynical people accomplish little that makes them proud.”
The Scouts recognize this and carry with them the ultimate goal of developing outstanding men to be fathers, husbands and leaders -- men who understand that sacrifice for the sake of others and the pursuit of a righteous path far outweigh selfish concerns and motivations.
It begins with the Scout oath: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” Keeping that pledge helps frame the lives of all successful Boy Scouts, no matter what rank they obtain.
All Scouts aim to obtain the highest honor, and last year alone a record 52,470 became Eagle Scouts, more than enough to fill Yankee Stadium. Among them was the 2 millionth Eagle Scout in history.
Our country needs people who rise to challenges with dignity and honor; people who make moral decisions; people who are trustworthy, brave and kind.
“Each generation as it comes to maturity has no more important duty than that of teaching high ideals and proper behavior to the generation which follows,” Deputy Chief Scout Executive George J. Fisher said in 1937.
Scouting has been doing that successfully for a century now. Let’s hope it continues doing so for many centuries more.