In defense of myself: Why the responses were wrong

by Matthew M. Lug - Graduate Student

Note: This was written in response to
Scouting letter carries 'wrong' message
In defense of scouting: Why protests are right
which were written in response to
In defense of scouting: Why protests are wrong

As expected, there were some responses to my last article, in which I took an unpopular position. Also as expected, I wasn't that impressed with the responses. We'll get to that soon, but first, here's a list of the main points from my article two weeks ago:

1. As a private organization, the BSA should be allowed to set its own membership requirements. The US Supreme Court currently supports this position.

2. The recent wave of protests has been little more than a knee-jerk response to the Supreme Court ruling and has little chance of achieving any positive results beyond giving a few people their 15 minutes of fame.

3. Anyone who wishes to promote change in a private organization should do so by working with the organization and not against it.

I thought my points were fairly straightforward, but the responses printed in last week's issue of Tech News seem to contradict that idea. Something I tried to do in my original article was to keep it as impersonal as possible. I only mentioned myself when describing my experiences in Scouting that were related to the issue. This time I guess I'll have to go into my personal beliefs on the subject, which you should not be able to determine based on my previous article. Last time I also attempted to respond to the typical knee-jerk reactions that I knew my article would cause. Due to this, some points that were brought up in the responses had already been responded to in the original article. Finally, I tend to stay away from idealism whenever possible, since reality is the most productive place in which to work.

Now, here's what I have to say about the responses. Starting with point 1 from above, one of the people who responded to my article stated "Discrimination is wrong." Now, if you had read my article, you would have seen that I had stated that discrimination is not something that can have a quality like "wrong" or "right" assigned to it. Saying that discrimination is wrong is like saying that guns are evil - you will probably get people to agree with you, but that doesn't mean that what you said made any sense. Just in case you didn't understand my point, a gun can't be evil unless it is possessed by an evil spirit or something, which is highly unlikely. Something like "Excluding any person from any organization for any reason is wrong" would have been a more valid opinion. The response's author continued with "No matter whom you exclude ... your group is diminished." While this may be true, it also leads into the idea that it is up to the group to decide whether or not it is acceptable for the group to be diminished, leading into point number 3 above. I believe that the BSA should allow membership regardless of sexual orientation, but I also believe that the decision to do so must be made from within and not forced from the outside.

Despite being decidedly against the exclusion of homosexuals, the responses both seemed to indicate support for discrimination on the basis of non-religion. One stated "It is written in the Scout oath and law, every ceremony and every event." The other said "That is a clear membership requirement and it has been upheld because they do not discriminate on why type of organized religion you follow." These arguments seem to say that discrimination is more acceptable if you have it clearly stated in enough policies and do not base it on interpretations of these policies. Unlike the policy on homosexuals, the policy on religion does not have a "don't ask, don't tell" loophole. They do ask, and you will be kicked out if you don't have the right answer. I believe that this is excessive, since not following any religion or set of religious beliefs is not direct opposition to any policy, as long as there is no opposition to participating in religious-themed events. I have never really considered myself a follower of any religion, but I still managed to get through my years as a Scout without being dishonest to myself or the troop, and I never felt pressured to change my beliefs because of Scouting. Easing the policy on religion would seem to me to be a good first step at greater tolerance.

Both people who responded agreed that the recent protests primarily affected individual troops and scouts and not the organization itself, which was my basis for point 2 above. However, both shrug off the harm to scouts and communities as a necessary evil of sorts. One response stated "The protesters do understand this but are in a sense saying that if the BSA chooses to function in a manner that goes against society's moral fiber of what is right and wrong, then they shouldn't exist at all." This is something I really have a problem with. I am usually against attempts by outside people or organizations to force morality on anyone. I am against it in the issue of abortion (the government should stay out of that issue), I am against "good samaritan" laws (doing the "right thing" should not be required by law), and I am against it in this case (outsiders should not decide what is right and wrong for a private organization). In simpler terms, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink (or accept homosexuals into its organization).

Both of those who responded also seemed to be willing to accept the demise of the Boy Scouts if they don't cave in to the will of the protestors. As one of them points out however, Scouting receives a significant amount of funding from groups that oppose the inclusion of homosexuals. This means that if the protests were to be fully successful, a few specific groups would have exclusive control over the BSA's funding. Somehow, I don't see the BSA's policy on homosexuality changing in this situation, nor do I see the organization disappearing. As I stated before, I don't see how these protests can help anything. If you don't want to fund the Boy Scouts, don't give them money. If you fund groups based on what they do for the community, there is no reason to discontinue support of Scouting at the local level.

There wasn't too much discussion of the relationship between Scouting and schools, but I have something to add on that topic. One response stated "With more and more school systems denying all forms of association with the Boy Scouts they are losing valuable recruiting channels." Personally, I've always wondered how they were able to get away with any recruiting in schools. While the BSA does not advocate a specific religion, they do advocate religion, and it isn't much of a stretch to see this as schools promoting religion, which is something that shouldn't be happening.

The main argument against point number 3 above is that homosexuals can't be official Scout leaders, and therefore can't be part of the organization. I responded to this in my original article - you don't need a uniform to be involved in Scouting. While I have not seen any policies regarding requirements for non-members of Scouting, I can't see how they could kick out people who are not members. Scouting is deeply connected to the community, and you are a part of your community regardless of your sexual orientation. If you want to help, ask the leaders of a troop what you can do to help. If they refuse your help in a non-member role on the basis of sexual orientation, then you may be limited to petitioning the national level of Scouting for a policy change. Heterosexuals can and should become involved as leaders if they are truly concerned about the organization.

Another argument on this topic was that the Boy Scouts "can remove anyone from the organization, including your Eagle Scout rank, simply for supporting gay rights." I would really like to see something that backs up this statement. The official statement that I quoted in my previous article said "We believe an avowed homosexual is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law." It did not say "We believe someone who supports gay rights is not a role model for the values espoused in the Scout Oath and Law." There is a big difference between an opinion and a sexual orientation, and I find it hard to believe that the BSA would take such drastic measures over a difference of opinion. I have not seen any evidence that Scouting requires members to agree with national-level leaders. It would be very disturbing if this accusation were true, but until someone can back this up, I will be forced to add it to the vast pile of misinformation that contains items like the myth that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet.

And finally, a closing quote from one of the responses: "Protests like this will continue with any group with policies such as the BSA's until it is understood that homosexual's are not a morally deviant sub-section of society." This sounds nice, but is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Asking everyone to have the same opinion on homosexuality is like asking everyone to have the same opinion on abortion - it just isn't going to happen, which is why the government should stay out of these issues (abortion should continue to be legal and civil unions should not distinguish between homosexual and heterosexual couples, for example). Rather than trying to change everyone's minds, it would be much more productive to focus on the local community and encourage open discussion, respecting all opinions with the goal of helping all people (including yourself) make more informed decisions. A misguided national-level policy cannot harm a well-informed community.

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