American Culture

The Boy Scouts of America fail to live up to their own Oath and Law

The Boy 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; and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

The Boy Scout Law
A Scout is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. (source)

When I joined the Cub Scouts, I was in First Grade. Over the next eight years, I earned every Cub Scout rank and then worked my way up to being a Life Scout, the second highest rank, just below Eagle. I left Scouting in my Freshman year of High School because a couple of relatively significant illnesses made it clear I was over-committed and that something had to go.

Those eight years contained any number of highs and lows, but in general I look back at the time I spent in the Boy Scouts with fondness. That fondness soured some in 2000 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America were legally permitted to discriminate against gay Troop Leaders and gay Scouts, throwing them out if they were openly gay. By that point I had made a number of gay, lesbian, or bisexual friends, and the ruling appalled me. I remain appalled to this day because discrimination goes against everything that I was taught the Scout Oath and the Scout Law stood for.

Not long after my son was born, I realized that I was going to face a moment of truth – there was going to come a time when I would have to decide between my rejection of the Scouts’ policy of discrimination and the opportunity to permit my son to create eight years or so of his own fond memories. After much agonizing I ultimately decided not to let my son join the Scouts.

That decision might not have been so difficult had today’s LA Times article about the Scouts’ having concealed evidence of child molestation been published while I was wrestling with the decision.

According to the article, the LATimes reviewed 1600 of 1900 files covering a period from 1970 to 1991 that had been made public as a result of a 1992 molestation case against the Boy Scouts of America. The Times found more than 400 cases where molestation accusations were ignored, where molestations were covered up, and where molesters who had been fired from one Troop went on to molest boys in a different Troop.

According to the Times, another 1247 files covering 1965 through 1985 are about to be published as a result of a 2010 court case. And only the Scouts know how many more confidential files like these exist.

Neither discrimination nor molestation are Scout values. Doing your duty to God certainly doesn’t include forcing boys to perform oral sex on you. And since when is discrimination “kind” or “courteous” or “friendly?”

I understand what passes for logic here: the order of the Scout Oath matters, and since God is mentioned first, and since homosexuality is ungodly, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is acceptable according to the Oath. I understand the argument. I just think it’s unreasonable.

Taken to its logical extreme, the Scout Oath would permit someone to be the antithesis of what it means to be a Scout in the first place – the 12 traits defined by the Scout Law – when relating to homosexuals. This approach to the Oath would mean that it was acceptable to be untrustworthy, treacherous, useless, hostile, rude, barbaric, defiant, sullen, wasteful, cowardly, dirty, and heretical in one’s dealings with gays (or atheists, for that matter). The problem with these 12 traits is that anyone who behaved in such a manner would probably qualify as a danger to himself or others, and certainly not be accurately described as a proper Boy Scout.

It’s possible, however, that the order of the Oath isn’t strict. In that case we come next to our duty to country. Even here molestation and discrimination are entirely unacceptable to any proper Scout. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence flat out reject discrimination and call upon creating an equal and just society. Furthermore, there are no states where child molestation is legal. It would be a Scout’s duty to his country to fight against both discrimination and child molesters, yet it’s clear from the LATimes article that too many of Scouting’s leaders failed to do their duty to their country.

After duty to country comes obeying the Scout Law. How can any man call himself a Scoutmaster if he abuses his Scouts? That is a fundamental betrayal of trust, friendship, courtesy, kindness, and reverence, just for starters. And the men who covered up or ignored accusations of molestation are just as guilty of failing to uphold their own ideals as the child molesters themselves.

As far as discrimination is concerned, it’s hardly helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, or brave, now is it?

After the Scout Law comes a Scout’s duty to help other people at all times. Enforcing a policy of discrimination does not help other people – it hurts them, both personally and socially. When gay Scoutmasters and Scouts are fired or not permitted to join in the first place, they are personally hurt by the experience. Furthermore, the ideal of an inclusive, melting-pot society is also damaged by the discrimination.

As far as the child molestation is concerned, the harm is obvious.

There is another, less obvious point to be made regarding the Oath and the response of the Boy Scouts of America to accusations of molestation. If the order of the Oath is strict – duty to God and Country, followed by duty to others, and finally duty to self – then the response of the Boy Scouts of America turned that order on it’s head. In an attempt to protect itself from embarrassment, the Boy Scouts of America elevated its duty to itself over its duty to others, its duty to emulate the Scout Law, its duty to abide by the law, and even its duty to God.

As I said initially, I really value my eight years as a Boy Scout. I did a lot of fun stuff and spent a lot of good hours with my dad. But my own son doesn’t need the Scouts to do fun stuff and spend good hours with me. He just needs my time and attention, and that’s something I can control.

If the Boy Scouts of America changes their policy of discrimination and continues to clean up their act with respect to child molesters in their midst, I might consider allowing my son to join in the future. But until the Boy Scouts of America actually start to live and act according to their Oath and Law, my son will be far better off without them.

6 replies »

  1. So the Boy Scouts aren’t perfect – therefore you deprive your son the possibility of an All-American experience.? What are YOU afraid of?

    • Tom: I can’t speak for Brian, but if it were my son, I’d be afraid he’d be raped by a Scout leader who had been doing it to other boys with the knowledge and cover of the BSA for decades.

      Unless you mean that being raped by a Scout leader IS an all-American experience.

  2. Tom

    It’s hard to know, but let’s assume you’re a good guy who loves the Scouts and doesn’t rape children. However, you have to realize that fishermen fish where the fish are. Pederasts are naturally attracted to organizations that attract children and place them in vulnerable situations, like camping trips. Of course pedophiles are drawn to the BSA. If the BSA refuses to systematically root them out, then only a fool would send their child there.

    The problem is not that there were pedophiles in the Catholic Church, BSA, and Penn State locker room. The problem is that those organizations deliberately chose not to purge them, which allowed them to continue their predation elsewhere. How in the world is failure to act bravely part of the All American experience?

  3. Really, Tom – you read 1100 words detailing how the Boy Scouts of America are failing to live up to their own ideals – and not just by a inch, but a mile – and the best response you have is that implying that I’m afraid my son will get molested?

    In any organization as large as the Boy Scouts of America, there will be some sickos. Given the Scouts involve children, as Otherwise pointed out the sickos will tend to be child molesters. That’s basic psychology and elementary math. But he could get kidnapped on the way to the bus, attacked by a teacher, or hit by a car while riding his bicycle. I’m not so afraid of those things that I keep him home all the time or follow him everywhere he goes, so no, I’m not afraid of the Boy Scouts.

    I’m sure that the majority of BSA members are decent people. But the BSA itself is not acting according to it’s own Oath and Law, as I pointed out – repeatedly – above. Furthermore, it’s not acting in accordance with the values of the United States as detailed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. As such, the Boy Scouts of America in opposition to, not in accordance with, your so-called “All-American” experience.

    At this point I’m better emulating the values of the Boy Scouts by not letting my son join than the Boy Scouts of America are themselves.

  4. Perhaps no one has bothered to notice that Baden Powell, the founder of the movement, included an alternative oath for Buddhists to become Scouts. The Buddhists do not have a claimed religious bias against gays, and the claimed basis of refusing gays is hence invalid.

    Clearly then the Boy Scouts of America is in breach of the spirit and principles of Baden Powell and should not be allowed to be hi jacking his name and organisation in pursuit of their own narrow minded bigotry.