Why can’t the Boy Scouts of America hold to the same moral code and resulting lifestyle principles they’ve held to since their formation?
Has the moral code changed?
No. What’s changed is the brazenness of those who oppose both the code and those who stand by it.
This is clear in the current scuttlebutt that led the national leadership of the Boy Scouts of America to schedule a vote to decide whether to maintain the century-long national policy of requiring members and leaders to be “morally straight.”
What is not clear is the precise language of the ballot—that is, what exactly will it say? What question will it ask?
This is important because the answer will be determined not only by the question, but by the way the question is framed. We see this phenomena all of the time in political polling. The outcome of the vote, therefore, inevitably depends on precisely what is asked.
BSA is likely to ask its leaders whether they approve of a new policy that allows each individual council to decide its own membership criteria—the so-called “local option.” On the surface that may sound fair and even democratic. And this may be enticing to local groups thinking that they will get to decide for themselves what values they stand for and with whom they want to associate.
The problem is that, if the local option should pass, the reverse will be true: BSA and its councils will likely lose the ability to choose with whom they wish to associate.
The constitutional protection to associate freely emanates from the fact that BSA has a uniform national policy. When a uniform national policy no longer exists, BSA would no longer speak with a unified voice, it necessarily no longer has a unified message, and the associational protection that has long covered local groups is now gone.
Clearly, the local option is not a “neutral” policy, as some have attempted to describe it. And if it is chosen, it will be an affirmative abandonment of the national BSA policy that has been in place for more than 100 years.
BSA has—since its inception—required scouts to “do [their] duty to God” and to keep themselves “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” If being “morally straight” is no longer a requirement, is “duty to God” next? If each local council can decide its membership policy, certainly it can jettison that, too.
Moreover, every local group that decides to maintain the current policy of “duty to God” and being “morally straight” will be open to legal claims from those wanting admission without holding to these values. The 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case that decided this issue will be undermined by the national BSA organization voluntarily giving up its protection. In each legal case that comes along, then, that protection must be reestablished. It’s not that it can’t be done, but it will place a severe burden on each individual troop that would have to pay to defend a lawsuit to reestablish a right that it had just a few months earlier.
So, in reality, the “local option” doesn’t look so appealing when you realize it’s very real consequences.
It has often been said that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. BSA should continue standing for something—specifically, the same values for which it has been successful in training boys and creating leaders for more than a century.