27 April, 2000

On my honor

On my honor, I will do my best,
To do my duty, to God and my country,
To help other people at all times,
And to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

I really dig NPR. Unfortunately, it kept me up last night. While checking my alarm I heard a rebroadcast of All Things Considered, and heard Nina Totenberg's story about the hearings held at the Supreme Court yesterday in the case of a Scoutmaster that had been banned for admitting his homosexuality. The New Jersey Supreme Court had ruled that the dismissal violated anti-discrimination laws. I was interested in this story, being a former Boy Scout and all, but I hadn't been able to find any good information or analysis of it online. I was glad to catch Nina's piece, but it sparked those brain cells I was putting to sleep, and messed up my night.

In the story, there is a disagreement over what is written in the Boy Scout Handbook.

James Dale: "Morally straight ... to respect and defend the rights of all people. To be honest and open in your relationships with other people. Standing up for yourself, and being honest."

Lawyer: "No, it says purity - chaste conduct."

A Justice asks, What is the message of Scouts? The manual says nothing against homosexuality.

"The Scouts view homosexuality as immoral."

"What about living in sin?"

Another point was that government units sponsor troops, and thus sign on to "Boy Scout values." The implication is that if the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, are going to discriminate, they could not be accommodated by public institutions in New Jersey.

That the Scouts do not enforce chastity codes upon heterosexual members points to an inconsistency in the application of the Scout laws. If "morally straight" is to be interpreted as a pure, "chaste" lifestyle, then merely talking about sex, a not infrequent topic of conversation among adolescent boys, even in the Scouts, should get a boy kicked out of the Scouts. How many single or widowed adult Scout Masters practice sex outside of marriage? Admit it publicly?

And if voicing the fact that you have a sexual desire, whatever its nature, is not grounds to be kicked out of Scouts, then how could admitting that one is a homosexual violate the idea of chaste purity? One could be a chaste homosexual just as one could be a chaste heterosexual. Wouldn't the line lay at the admission of sexual activity?

Trustworthy. One thing that irks me is when people make up rules. One thing I distinctly remember from the Handbook was the argument that in a democracy, people should abide by the law. If you disagree with the law, you should still uphold that law, while working to change it.

The law that homosexuality is immoral is an argument of ... who? The guys who run the Scouts? From where is their moral authority derived? Are they elected or anything? I honestly do not know. I've always regarded the Boy Scouts as an inclusive, non-denominational, even humanist organization, whose precepts would be more closely in line with Dale's interpretation of the Scout motto. If the moral code, such that members could be removed from the organization, is to have such restrictions, they should be clearly spelled out: no impure thoughts or actions. And enforced: anyone guilty of masturbation Need Not Apply.

And yet, this version of "morality" is not spelled out or enforced. Hell, it is not even a Scout Law. I can still remember; "A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent." As an Atheist, (another group of people under attack by the Boy Scouts,) I read carefully the section on "Reverent." I can say, almost verbatim, that "Reverent" was described as reverence toward God and a respect for other religions. My reverence toward God was to not believe in Him. My beliefs argued that if God created the Universe, and was so far different from my own being, and I did not understand the way it manifested itself in my life, then I should not rush toward forming an inaccurate understanding of God. If you love something, let it go, and if it returns to you, it is yours. After ruminating on that passage, I interpreted my atheism as a-theism. I did not believe in theology, and had such reverence for God as to not hold an opinion regarding its existence.

It remains clear to me that the word "Reverence" does not imply "chaste thought". The motto says a Scout is "physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." If a Scout Master is found to rarely exercise and not pay his bills on time, should he also be kicked out?

What I'm getting at, is that the BSA is not being honest about its laws. If these laws exist, why are they not written? As a pluralistic institution that solicits the membership of all boys, and relies on numerous public institutions, in a state that outlaws prejudism against homosexuals, in a nation that has historically overcome its own successive bigotries, it is inconsistent to deny membership to a minority of the population based on rules that simply are not stated. It is discrimination, which violates several of the Scout Laws, not to mention the laws of New Jersey and the United States.

The story that followed was on a similar topic - the ACLU's lawsuit against Kentucky Baptist for firing a lesbian, is a very excellent piece. The great thing about this story is that it is to me, far more morally ambiguous than the Boy Scout's case. The conundrum is neatly summarized at the end - religious institutions must be free to adhere to their religion, but at the same time the government can not spend money promoting one religion at the expense of another.

Bah. So anyways, Tellme's got some slightly goofy scheduling tonite - beers and stuff at the Tied House at 6:30, and then Sushi coming in to the office at 7:45! Ai ya!

24 April << 2000 >> 11 May

This document last modified Wednesday, 19-Nov-2003 23:24:54 UTC <dannyman@dannyland.org>