While the Boy Scout handbook has always been non-sectarian, it also has always presented a belief in God as a requirement for good scouts. The Scout Oath requires that scouts be “morally straight,” and the Scout Law requires that a scout be “clean and reverent.” The meaning of these terms has recently collided with America’s changing morality.
In 1989, James Dale applied to be an assistant scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts, Troop 73 in New Jersey. In 1990, Dale’s photograph appeared in the local newspaper as the co-president of the Lesbian/Gay Alliance. Dale soon received a letter from the Boy Scouts informing him that his adult membership was being revoked in the BSA because the Scouts “specifically forbid membership to homosexuals.”
Dale filed suit alleging that the BSA had violated New Jersey’s accommodations statute and the Scouts needed to reinstate his membership. When lower courts sided with Dale, the Boy Scouts appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the BSA. Writing the majority opinion of the 5-4 ruling in 2000, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote:
The Boy Scouts asserts that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values embodied in the Scout Oath and Law, particularly those represented by the terms “morally straight” and “clean,” and that the organization does not want to promote homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior. The Court gives deference to the Boy Scouts’ assertions regarding the nature of its Expression. … The state interests embodied in New Jersey’s public accommodations law do not justify such a severe intrusion on the freedom of expressive association.
Because of social pressure, the Boy Scouts of America is now considering ending their longstanding ban on gay members and scoutmasters in order to allow local organizations to decide their own policy. Conceding this high court victory for private organizations that have moral requirements for membership because of social pressure could have potential ramifications for churches. Changing the BSA policy would also require a redefining or a removal of the terms, “morally straight, clean” and “reverent.”
Chief Justice Rehnquist was right. The BSA should not be pressured to change its policy to “promote homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.” That behavior is incompatible with applied Christianity and the intent of the Boy Scouts’ founders.
Darin Kress is pastor of Scott Lake Baptist Church in Lakeland.
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