Scouts in court

Ted M. Cox is a Sacramento freelance writer and an Eagle Scout

The Boy Scouts of America are going to court—again. California’s Supreme Court will determine whether the Scouts can keep a $1-a-year lease on prime land in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. Two sets of parents—one agnostic, the other lesbian—sued to revoke the lease because their children are denied equal access to the public land based on the Scouts’ refusal to allow homosexuals or non-believers to join their ranks.

The BSA likely will lose, as they did a similar suit in Berkeley last year. It’s unfortunate. Scouting’s immeasurable benefit to boys is being undone by blatant discriminatory practices it refuses to abandon.

The BSA is one of the nation’s most important organizations for young men. While many of this country’s boys are medicated for merely acting like boys, Scouting provides resources for them to make the transition to manhood. BSA programs place emphasis on achievement, leadership and cooperation. Tangible benefits include training in first aid, disaster preparedness, financial responsibility, outdoor skills and service to others. It also provides positive role models who actively take part in each Scout’s development.

However, the BSA openly discriminates on the basis of religion (or lack thereof) and sexual orientation. As a private organization, the BSA should be allowed to determine who can and cannot join its ranks. But, as in the San Diego case, barring gays, atheists and agnostics from joining should also deny the BSA special access to taxpayer-supported land.

The biggest losers will be the boys. Scouts will have less access to public outdoor land vital to the Scouting experience. Boys will lose out because their adult leaders refuse to recognize that gays, atheists and agnostics are as good, moral and patriotic as their heterosexual and religious counterparts.

Ideally, the BSA would adopt an attitude like the Girl Scouts’—with their goal to “serve every girl, everywhere,” they don’t bar girls or leaders on the basis of sexual orientation or lack of religious belief. But with the number of Boy Scout troops sponsored by conservative religious groups, a change in policy is unlikely anytime soon.

Instead of maintaining its place as a valuable training ground for this country’s future men, the Scouts increasingly will be viewed as a supporter of backward and outdated discriminatory practices.