Founded in 1910, over the years the Boy Scouts of America has expanded to include the involvement of up to 2.3 million youth, both girls as well as boys, and is coordinated with the assistance of 900,000 adult volunteers. The Scouts were originally founded to “to teach patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values” to boys.
However, changes have been made to the Boy Scouts, starting with a new name, In 2019 the title was officially changed to Scouts BSA, and its values and guidelines have altered in the last 100 or so years. In 2010 girls were allowed to join the scouting organization. Then in 2013, the BSA between lifted any restrictions on sexual orientation and, in 2015, the BSA lifted its ban on allowing gay scoutmasters – despite the organization’s history of sexual abuse by the same.
However, the latter was not a choice made by the BSA but forced on the organization by litigation. Let’s look at some of the history.
The Boy Scouts of America Once Furthered Morality
The expectations of a good BSA member, both the youth participants and the adult volunteers, are laid out within the Scout Oath and Law. An upstanding Scout is described as trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Each BSA unit employs activities centered around these qualities in order to strengthen the same attributes in its members.
Every Scout and Scoutmaster is expected to act in accordance with the Scout Oath and Scout Law, which call the young Scouts and adult Scoutmasters to fulfill a threefold duty: to God, to others and to themselves. The duty towards God includes following the religious instruction of those who know and serve God; the Catholic Church is in the top three organizations associated traditionally with the Scouts. All scouts should remember those who made sacrifices to ensure the safety and prosperity of its citizens. A duty towards others is fulfilled by helping those in need and having a positive attitude. And finally the last duty, towards oneself, is upheld by staying “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight” [emphasis ours].
The US Scout Service Project very loosely defines “morally straight” merely as keeping relationships honest and open. Members are also encouraged to “respect and defend the rights of all people.” This includes clean speech and actions that adhere to one’s religious beliefs. The USSSP wraps up the importance of moral integrity by stating, “The values you practice as a Scout will help you shape a life of virtue and self-reliance.”
So, though vague in specifics, the BSA still alleges its aim is to raise virtuous men in the American community.
BSA Embraces Homosexual Scouts and Scoutmasters
In 1990, James Dale’s involvement in BSA was revoked on the grounds that homosexuals were banned from membership.
Shortly thereafter, 19-year-old Dale filed a lawsuit in New Jersey, saying that the Boy Scout’s action violated the state’s civil rights laws. After the Boy Scouts lost in the state court, the organization appealed to the Supreme Court, who oversaw the case. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale that the BSA, a private organization, had the right to include or exclude whomever it wanted, based on the First Amendment. At the time, the organization stated that having gay Scoutmasters contradicted the Scout Oath in keeping its members “morally straight.” However, this decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.
In 2013, the Boy Scouts decided to admit openly gay Scouts and in 2015 the ban on gay Scoutmasters was lifted. The organization leaves it up to each individual troop and their sponsors to decide whom they will associate with, but this hands-off approach usually leads to endorsement. In fact, BSA dedicates a whole paragraph in its eligibility requirements in becoming a Scout or Scoutmaster to those who have homosexual inclinations, encouraging them to enroll. In just a little over a decade, BSA completely reversed its values regarding homosexual members.
Turning its Back on its Top Supporters
In its actions, the BSA turned its back on many of its staunchly Christian members and in fact, the Catholic Church has been among the top three organizations working with the Boy Scouts over time. Now alternative groups that shepherd morality more closely have sprung up. But why the concern?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms homosexuality, the inclination of being sexually attracted to the same sex, is inherently disordered (CCC #2357) because the sexual act is reserved for marriage, and open to the procreation of children. It should be stressed that same-sex inclinations, though disordered, are not sinful unless acted upon. All members of the Church indeed are governed by chastity, according to their state in life. (For instance, all singles practice abstinence.)
Understanding this, the Church exhorts its members to receive those who experience same sex attraction with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” (CCC #2358) and loved as children of God. Holy Mother Church recognizes the dignity of all mankind, made in the image of God, without deviating her teaching Christ’s Gospel message. Needless to say, though, the BFA could assign your child a scoutmaster who may as a role model be a source of confusion as each learns the faith.
Sexual Perversion Within the BSA
The Boy Scouts of America, in changing its policies to include homosexuals, opened Pandora’s box. An all-male organization including gays should have secured the protection and safety of the young Scouts participating in the BSA. In fact, to the misfortune of communities across America, over 400 cases of abuse by at least 250 scoutmasters have surfaced to date. In what the organization internally referred to as its “perversion files,” some ineligible volunteers were documented.
However, an L.A. Times investigation revealed that BSA often covered up the abuser’s tracks for the sake of the reputation of the organization, endangering thousands of children’s lives. In 2012 the Oregon Supreme Court demanded that these “perversion files” go public, and since then the LA Times has built a database tracking the sexual abuse allegations found in these files, dating from the 1940’s to the 2000’s.
New cases continue to surface and the BSA had to weigh filing for bankruptcy.
BSA Continues its Morally Downward Trend
The BSA first introduced a program to protect children, called the Youth Protection program, in the 1980’s, 40 years after the first documented sexual abuse case. Only in 2003 were criminal background checks required of all new leaders, and in 2008 all leaders before 2003 were required to have a criminal background check.
In 2018, the BSA required that all leaders complete Youth Protection Training and have a background check. In addition to this, guidelines strictly outline failure to comply with the Scouter Code of Conduct, which specifically prohibits any sexual conduct with Scouts, may result in revocation of membership in BSA. Although these policies are a good step toward protecting the lives of children, they will not prove beneficial left unenforced.
Despite its history, the BSA continues to cave to ideological social pressures. In 2017, the organization publicized that it would give transgender “boys” (girls who self-identified as boys) scouting membership.
In a separate incident, the Boy Scouts also shocked many of its councils and associated organizations when it announced that condoms would be readily available at its July 2019 global convention. Scouts Canada, the Boy Scouts of America, and Asociación de Scouts de México were all compelled to participate.
Needless to say, encouraging sexual promiscuity is hardly raising the moral leaders of tomorrow.
How to Protect Your Children
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers a few suggestions on how to ensure Scouting remains safe and sticks to Catholic values at the local level (see question 10). If one opts to remain in the BSA, it encourages a strong relationship between BSA troops and religious education programs, troop members and diocesan workers. Parental involvement in local BSA councils is highly recommended.
The alternative is to seek out a new scouting organization. The USCCB also enumerates many other Scouting options that are available to young boys and girls, such as:
- National Catholic Committee on Scouting
- National Catholic Committee for Girl Scouts and Camp Fire
- American Heritage Girls National Catholic Committee
- National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry
- National Catholic Committee of Trail Life USA.
These organizations and committees essentially partner with their local church and respective Scouting administration to create a more personalized Scouting experience for their youth, focused on strong adherence to Christian values.
It is to be regretted that a once-valuable organization for the formation of young boys has degenerated into a poor ghost of itself. In deviating from its original values, it fails appallingly in promoting moral integrity in its youth.