Scouts ban on advocacy could hurt group's bid for troop

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2015 4:33 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Boy Scouts of America announced revised rules this week to emphasize a duty to God and ban political advocacy, leaving a Utah organizer who applied for a troop with gay leaders wondering if applications like his are targeted.

The changes come at the end of a turbulent year that saw the organization lift a blanket ban on gay leaders.

Restore Our Humanity — which advocated for the legalization of gay marriage in Utah — filed an application in September for an LGBT troop. Though he has yet to receive a formal response, director Mark Lawrence said he expects a rejection.

"I don't think this is what they were expecting. I don't think they expected a bunch of new charter applications to come," Lawrence said.

However, a Boy Scouts executive in the scouting stronghold of Utah said the revisions show that the organization's values remain intact.

The Boy Scouts' doors are open, but new troop applications must now be approved by a national body, not locally, Great Salt Lake Council Scout Executive Rick Barnes said.

"We're being very careful on how we do this with charters," he said. "We want to make sure that organizations are willing to follow our policy."

Utah is home to the nation's largest sponsor of Boy Scout units, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There are about 427,000 boys in Mormon church-sponsored troops, accounting for about 18 percent of all youth Scouts.

Church leaders said they were deeply troubled by the decision to allow gay troop leaders and had considered leaving the organization. They decided to stay after assurances that the organization would allow church-sponsored Scout units to maintain the exclusion for religious reasons, church leaders said.

The change nevertheless caused tension. The leaders of the Orem-based The Utah National Parks Council, which serves about 90,000 Scouts south of Salt Lake County, said last month they were facing staff layoffs after donations dropped substantially.

Barnes said he's heard concerns about the end of the blanket ban, but the revisions to the Scouting Code of Conduct and new troop applications made public Monday reinforce the organization's commitment to its core tenets.

The revised rules also require prospective troop organizers to confirm that leaders haven't been convicted of abuse or other offenses, and to pledge that religious faith will be a guiding principle for their troops.

"Some people think that we've caved in our values, but we haven't," he said. "We're not going to judge them on a label, we're going to judge them on their behavior."

Lawrence said that he was happy to sign off on the faith pledge for his proposed troop. "We want to bring in all faiths and all religions," he said.

He expects a denial based on a different rule, one that bans political advocacy or troops chartered by single-issue groups. Restore Our Humanity, which Lawrence founded to press for the legalization of gay marriage in Utah, doesn't fit that description, he said. If the group is denied, Lawrence said he'd consider legal action.