Is The Boy Scouts of America Public or
On Sunday, President Bush www.voanews.com/english/2005-08-01-voa5.cfm
addressed a Jamboree of more than 30,000 Boy Scouts
in Virginia. He stated, "through the generations,
scouts have made America a stronger and better
nation." Those critical of www.scouting.org
the Boy Scouts of America argue that BSA's
exclusion of gays, atheists and females makes
America more divided and divisive. One side wishes
to strengthen BSA; the other wishes to destroy BSA
by forcing politically correct changes upon it.
Over the past two decades, BSA has been both a
flash point and the ground of sustained struggle
between traditional and PC values.
The central issue is whether BSA is a private or
If it is a private organization, then BSA does
not and should not have to justify its membership
policies. It enjoys the same freedom of association
and conscience as an individual. A private BSA has
the same right to exclude gays as The United Negro
College Fund has to exclude whites from
But whether BSA is private is not clear, and BSA
must bear some responsibility for the www.religioustolerance.org/bsa_1.htm
blurring of lines.
That responsibility is also an opportunity. BSA
can strike a blow for the right of free association
by altering its policies. I do not refer to
exclusionary membership policies but to the policy
of accepting massive government support, which is
the cause of so many blurred lines.
Where is the line clearly drawn?
means "of or pertaining to the people; belonging to
opposed to private." A public place
or organization is typically tax-funded or
subsidized, and no one individual has a right to
greater access than any other. National parks are
means "not available for public use, control, or
Belonging to a particular person
or persons, as opposed to the public or the
government." A private place or organization
receives no public funding; people become members
through invitation or through policies defined by
the owners. Your living room is an example.
BSA critics, like the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU), make one strong argument against the
organization's private status. BSA enjoys massive
and unique tax-funded support from governments both
local and federal. On the local level, for example,
San Diego was www.aclusandiego.org/boy_scouts/boyscoutsbalboa.htm
targeted because it allowed BSA's headquarters to
operate in a city-owned park for $1 per year and to
use other city-owned facilities without any
On the federal level, the Pentagon provided an
estimated $6 to $8 million from 1997 to 2001 to
assist a BSA Jamboree -- an event which is
traditionally held on military bases.
Linda Hills of the ACLU aptly states, "The Boy
Scouts can't have it both ways
If they truly
are a private religious organization, free to
engage in any form of discrimination they choose,
then they are not entitled to a government
On June 22nd, U.S. District Judge Blanche
Manning (Illinois) agreed. She www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,161881,00.html
ruled against continuing the Jamboree's subsidy
and, so, refused BSA continued access both to
military bases and assistance such as
On July 26th, in a counter-move, the Senate
unanimously voted for military bases to continue
hosting BSA events. (The relevant thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SA01342:
provision was part of thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SN01042:
which will set Defense Department policy for
The debate over BSA's status is heating up.
How hot can it get? Three factors make me
believe it will sizzle.
First, high court rulings and the Senate are in
Second, the rhetoric I'm reading has turned
openly vicious. Consider the following commentary
from a BSA critic.
Let me set the context. Four scout leaders
were killed last week in an electrical accident.
More than 300 boy scouts at the afore-mentioned
collapsed from heat prostration while waiting for
Bush's earlier scheduled arrival that was delayed.
lightning killed a BSA leader and a 13-year-old boy
during a storm in Sequoia National Park.
response of The Advocate -- "the Award Winning GLBT
[Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered]
News Site" -- is that "God hates Boy Scouts". The
Advocate explained why. "While under the law the
Boy Scout stance on gays may be justifiable,
socially, morally, it's just plain wrong."
The commentary was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek
response-in-kind to a Jerry Falwell comment
regarding 9-11. Falwell stated, "the gays and the
I point the finger in their face and
say 'you helped this happen.'" He publicly
apologized. I don't believe GLBT will apologize for
its glee about the lightning deaths. The Advocate
repeated a report, "Screams rang out as the tent
caught fire and the men burned," then added,
"That's downright Old Testament."
The third reason for increasing divisiveness was
offered by WorldNetDaily on www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=45534
July 30th. "If you ever felt like you were sick of
seeing the Boy Scouts of America being used for a
punching bag by the American Civil Liberties Union
and other activists, take heart. Reinforcements are
WND referred to Hans Zeiger, whose new book "Get
Off My Honor" is described as a counter-offensive
in the Boy Scout "war". Each side is preparing for
no prisoners taken. That doesn't need to
The first step in avoiding yet another senseless
culture "war" is to clearly establish BSA as a
public or private organization.
The solution is simple. BSA should cease to
accept tax-funding and cut all official ties to
government agencies. BSA should live up to its
self-declared status as a private organization.
This would also be living up to BSA principles: it
is the honest and honorable thing to do.
* * *
McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of
many books and articles, including her latest book,
Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the
21st Century. She lives with her husband in
Also, see her daily blog at www.zetetics.com/mac
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