No merit badge for murder

Retired educator

Not only was the young man who murdered Matthew Shepherd a Boy Scout, he was an Eagle Scout, the highest rank to which a Scout aspires. So what, you ask? The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has had positive effects on millions of youths. Does one horrendous act by one Scout prove that the program is a failure? Of course not, but it does raise heart-wrenching questions.

If the unequivocal rejection of homosexuals practiced by the BSA was not its policy, would an Eagle Scout have harassed, tortured and murdered Matthew Shepard? If all boys, including those who are homosexual, had been welcomed into Scouting, and outstanding young, gay men had been welcomed as leaders, would Matthew be alive today?

Matthew is not alive today. But the BSA, and many religious figures including Jerry Falwell and the Pope, popular talk show hosts such as Dr. Laura and Michael Savage, and high ranking politicians including Senator Strom Thurmond, continue to perpetuate a scapegoat mentality which leads to rejection of, and even hate toward, homosexuals. That extreme negativity can lead to the types of violence exemplified by the murder of Matthew Shepard. Instead of rejecting homosexuals, and thus, breeding contempt for homosexuality, the BSA has an opportunity to decrease the anti-gay antagonism that festers in youth. Lessons of tolerance and understanding specific to homosexuality could be added to the generally admirable BSA program.

Recently, the Salvation Army, a world-renowned so-called “Christian charity,” attempted to obtain an exemption from government anti-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation. As is the case with the BSA and the Vatican, the Salvation Army bases its rejection of homosexuals on a debatable interpretation of biblical passages, an interpretation made despite the fact that Jesus Christ, himself, spoke against neither homosexuals nor homosexuality. Are we to believe that he would approve of the negativity toward homosexuals that is so common among religiously oriented groups today?

Fortunately the government appears to have denied the exemption requested by the Salvation Army, and a significant portion of the public is questioning the Army, BSA and Vatican-type anti-gay policies. Framers of the United States Constitution intended to separate church and state; consequently, exemptions to civil rights should not be tolerated.

Organizations that promote exclusion of gays and lesbians, no matter to what degree they claim to be charitable, should not be granted taxpayer dollars. With such a restriction in place, Matt might be alive today.