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Good Morning.

Last week, I wrote a blog about Scouting and the ongoing debate about our national membership policy. Well, it's another week, and another week with Scouting in the headlines, so it's another blog about Scouting.  (Reference:

National Leadership is hung up on just two words out of the many hundreds, if not thousands, of words and directives that make up what it is to be a scout.

"Morally Straight".

These words come from the membership oath, and as I described it last weekend:

. . . and morally straight.
To be a person of strong character, your relationships with others should be honest and open. You should respect and defend the rights of all people. Be clean in your speech and actions, and remain faithful in your religious beliefs. The values you practice as a Scout will help you shape a life of virtue and self-reliance.

But what does this really mean? You know I have been a Scout since I was 8 years old. That's a very long time….to put it into some perspective, my friend Jay Martin (Eagle Scout, class of '83) came home from school one day and asked me if I wanted to be a Cub Scout. This was in the fall of 1974, some 39 years ago. Like a lot of kids, I wasn't terribly interested in badges. I did not make Arrow of Light (the highest award in Cub Scouting) nor did I progress much past First Class on the Trail to Eagle.

As a youth member, I was more interested in the outdoor aspect of the program. I love to camp...I like fire, I like swimming and aquatics, and I like getting up on top of mountains to see what's up there. It was not until I became an adult and started teaching the next generation what I knew that my devotion to the organization truly took hold.

"Morally Straight" can mean many things to many people. As you're aware, in addition to the oath, we have a set of rules we follow in the Scout Law. I enumerated all 12 points last week, but we'll take a look at just one again.

A Scout is Reverent.
A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.
Scouting is NOT a religious organization, no matter what some other folks may tell you. Baden-Powell himself was a God-fearing Victorian, so naturally some elements of Anglicanism crept their way into the program. But as B-P aged, he softened his views significantly on the role of religion in the program. By the time he died in 1941, he had gone out of his way to make multiple statements and writings that a Scout is a "brother to all other Scouts", no matter what their religion, creed, race, or background.

Certain religious sects do not have any officially-sanctioned youth program within their ministry. Instead, they rely on the Scout program to fill that gap. The two that spring most prominently to mind are the LDS church and the Methodists. The LDS has such a huge influence over the Scouting program because they charter the most amount of units, followed closely by the Catholic Church. As a result, the National Council is heavily populated by Mormons, and because of their geographic location (Irving, TX), Southern Baptists.

Both of these groups are well noted for their conservative views, and sometimes bizarre and exclusionary rituals and policies. By populating the national leadership of Scouting, they are able to wield undue influence over national scouting policy. Make no mistake, this is why this is an issue. For the better part of Scouting's existence, it was headquartered in New Jersey, only moving to Texas in the early 1980s. Ever since then, the movement has become increasingly intolerant and polarized. (What is it about Texas that has that effect, anyway?)

I wonder what all of you think "Morally Straight" means? For me, it's easy. It means doing the right thing...following the Oath and Law and doing what B-P intended. Go back to last week and look at a couple of the points of the Scout Law and the description. As I said, those were written with 11-year-old boys in mind, in order to teach them what these noble words mean, and how to act when carrying out your duties as a Scout.

For 81 years of Scouting in America, these principles were what guided the organization. In 1988, James Dale in California earned his Eagle but was denied the badge just because he was gay. He in turn filed suit, and it went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in the BSA's favor, calling it a "private organization" who can decide what kind of membership they want.

Which doesn't exactly ring true. Every year, the Congress of the United States authorizes the BSA to operate under a National Charter. I don't know about you, but if Congress is granting you permission to do something in the name of the Government of the United States, there's very little that is more public than that.

The debate continues, and National has shown a distinct lack of courage by delaying a decision until May. It is, however, they didn't just come out and say no.

But what does this mean for all of us in uniform? Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is my life's work. As I mentioned previously, as a youth, I was not terribly interested in badges; I just wanted to camp. Now as an adult….well, I've been selected for Scouting's Honour Society at the highest level (Vigil Honor), I've earned my Webelos Den Leader award, and this past year completed "Adult Eagle", or Woodbadge training. As I go further along, I continue to suspect that I have missed my calling and I should have been a teacher.

Empowering the next generation of youth, and training their adult leaders, is the most rewarding part of the program. As a dear friend put it, as a den leader you can affect maybe 8 boys. A Scoutmaster has a little bit more influence. But if you train 15 adults how to be good leaders, then multiply that by the average troop size, the influence you can have over boy's lives increases exponentially. This is why I'm in it….primarily to teach and pass on what I have learned.

In all of my Scouting, I have not learned hate. I have not learned discrimination. I have not learned exclusion. I have not learned bigotry. These things are all counter to what a Scout is supposed to be.

Whether or not Lord Baden-Powell is whirling in his sarcophagus is yet to be seen. But the program he created and devoted the second half of his life to is in danger of fracturing and perhaps even heading for the dustbin of history. In the UK, it's very progressive. The program is now co-ed, and there are many variations of the oath, depending on your personal beliefs. There has been no falloff in membership, and overseas the program is stronger than ever.

Here in the United States though, I fear we are in danger of becoming irrelevant. It's not unlike the NRA and the tin ear their leadership has. I think most of us in the trenches "get it". Not even my hard right-wing friend disagrees. He's as devoted to the program as I am, and despite his misgivings, he doesn't want his local youth discriminated against or excluded in any way.

This program has done many things for many people. I feel that my own beloved Scoutmaster has had such an influence on my life that for years I listed him as a personal reference on my resume. I am equally devoted to another dear friend who is no longer with us...I wear his neckerchief slide, and barely a day goes by that I don't think of the influence he had over my troop. (And to this day, his is the only name I pray for on those rare occasions I attend Catholic Mass….not even for members of my own family; he meant that much to me.) And when I was Cubmaster...I wore as a temporary insignia a patch that was designed by my own Cubmaster "Big Al" almost four decades ago for our Bicentennial (when I was a Webelos Scout.)

This is what the program is supposed to be - dedicated adults passing on what they have learned and influencing the next generation to do the same. There is another oath, one that is far less-well known to outsiders, that has become my own personal mission statement. I've had a printout of the relevant part on my desk for over a decade, to remind myself every day what I'm supposed to do.

"...I will seek to preserve a cheerful spirit, even in the midst of irksome tasks and weighty responsibilities, and shall endeavor, so far as in my power lies, to be unselfish in service and devotion to the welfare of others."

National Council has lost sight of that. By excluding some, they diminish us all, and they are jeopardizing the future of the entire program. All over the sake of two words and what their narrow definition of them is.

As for me, I no longer believe the BSA is "Morally Straight", and as such, I've taken a bit of a stand. I am no longer reciting those words at the end of the Scout Oath. For me, a scout is Physically Strong and Mentally awake.

I tend to recite these things in a rather large voice, and at the last troop meeting, another member of the committee noticed....his head whipped around and he stared pointedly at me as I went silent during those words.

But he's on our side; perhaps this will spread.

Originally posted to TriSec on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 06:36 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Then you haven't learned the lessons they ARE (6+ / 0-)


    In all of my Scouting, I have not learned hate. I have not learned discrimination. I have not learned exclusion. I have not learned bigotry. These things are all counter to what a Scout is supposed to be.

    "Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" John Lennon - Working Class Hero

    by Horace Boothroyd III on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 07:01:42 AM PST

  •  and let's talk about Baden-Powell himself (8+ / 0-)

    Repressed homosexual. Likely if he was in charge of a troop today he'd be hounded out of his position.

    Your own founder, Scouts.  Do the right thing.

    -7.75, -8.10; . . . Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall (h/t cooper888)

    by Dave in Northridge on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 07:06:02 AM PST

  •  Of course his Anglicanism informed things (6+ / 0-)

    back in the Victorian era. My Anglicanism informs me, too. It informs me first to use my intellect when approaching religion, that is REASON, one of the three legs of the Anglican "three legged stool" of faith: Scripture, Tradition, REASON.

    Those times were different. Today, mainstream Anglicans in this country anyway practice something we call "Radical Welcome". EVERYONE is welcome.

    But you know, I was only briefly in a cub scout den. I never really pursued scouting. But I will say this: you can be gay and be a Freemason. You can't be an atheist, but you certainly can be gay. If the scouts can't legitimize themselves to the level of the Lodge, they have a BIG problem.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 09:18:21 AM PST

  •  Do members of a religious group (0+ / 0-)

    Have freedom of association to worship with people of other faith ,Jehovah Witness  are not allowed to worship or  really associate with  others that are not Jehovah Witness or face expulsion ,were do the rights of members of a religion  stop with  their personal rights or rights of the religious organization

  •  Pretty clear to me: morally straight, not sexually (9+ / 0-)

    I recited that pledge at the beginning of every one of my troop meetings when I was a scout. I never thought I was making a pledge about my sexuality. And I don't think the adults leading the troop did either. A patrol leader in my troop was an obvious mahu (this was in Hawaii), though he might not have known it yet and the rest of us might not have understood what it meant yet. We just knew he was a good guy who you could depend on to make good decisions and treat you fair (even a hoale like me). He went on to found a hula halau and a career as a dancer in many Waikiki showrooms. Still a  great guy. Still involved in Scouting.

    Luckily, a lot of folks involved in Scouting pay little or no attention to the fundies trying to ruin it for everybody.

    •  The current meaning of "straight" wasn't even (0+ / 0-)

      In use when that oath was written.  It would be like someone saying that Noah putting two of each type of animal on the ark meant that he had a typewriter.  (Or some equally ridiculous, but better example that I can't think of right now.) Morally straight meant, and means, there is a right way to behave morally to those around you, and you don't veer from that course.  Period.

      "We refuse to fight in a war started by men who refused to fight in a war." -freewayblogger

      by Bisbonian on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 04:57:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  As you note - straight as in honest (7+ / 0-)

    Related to "straightforward" (honest, frank, not evasive)
    Opposite to "crooked", source for the term "crook".

    "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

    by Catte Nappe on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 01:53:47 PM PST

  •  Interesting how close in time several events were (4+ / 0-)

    in the BSA: it's initial enactment of a ban on gays in 1978, the change in the whites-only policy in 1974, the hijacking of the board in the mid 1970s by Mormons and Southern Baptists, and the move to Texas.

  •  "Boy Scouts of America believes that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gardener in PA
    homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position."
    I think this statement by the BSA explicitly states what they mean by "morally straight" - traditional, heterosexual morality.

    Re: your assertion that scouting is not a religious organization, although that might be true of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, the BSA is a decidedly religious organization - it discriminates against atheists and agnostics.

    Preventing the BSA from becoming irrelevant in today's world will require persistent efforts by dedicated and passionate supporters like you. You'll have to continually chip away at the exclusionary "traditionalists" in their leadership and push them to become a truly diverse, inclusive organization. "Don't ask, don't tell" about a scout's belief system or sexual orientation won't cut it, although they may try to adopt a DADT-like strategy in order to avoid having to actively welcome gays and non-believers into their midst.

    I'm sure you'll be respectful and polite as you do so - good luck!

    I'm a Democrat - I believe that government has a positive role to play in the lives of ordinary people.

    by 1BQ on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 02:53:14 PM PST

  •  How long has this "morally straight" thing (0+ / 0-)

    been in the oath?   I asked this in the previous diary but didn't see a response and now can't find the diary. (I'm on a wonky phone.). So I apologize if this question has already been answered.  I was in scouting from about 1954 to 1961, Eagle Scout, Order of the Arrow, yada, yada, yada.  And I have ABSOLUTELY no memory of ever pledging to be "morally straight.". I suppose this could be a memory problem, but I can still remember the other parts of the oath and most of my Latin altar-boy responses from the same period, so I doubt it.  Could it be that Catholic Church-sponsored troops left that out for some weird, esoteric theological reason?  Anybody got any explanation other than my white matter is disappearing faster than snow in the mid-day sun?  

    •  It's been there since the beginning (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TheMeansAreTheEnd, wasatch

      My son collected antique scout books.  His first edition book is in the safety deposit box at the bank, but I have his 1927 edition here and it's in there on page 31.  

      Spot checked the more recent editions from WWII, and up until his editions that were published when he was active (1986-1998).  It's in all of them, in the original wording.  

      Supposedly, BP based it on the ancient "Oath of the Athenian Young Man" which mostly talks about not disgracing Athens by being cowardly or dishonest.  

      "Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential." - Barack Obama

      by Ricochet67 on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 04:52:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks. Leaves me stumped. Either the Catholics (0+ / 0-)

        edited it out or I've engaged in some very effective motivated forgetting -- a.k.a. repression.  Either that or I I just edited it out from the start & never encoded it.  In either of the latter cases, I guess I wasn't too impressed or comfortable with the concept of "morally straight,"
        even as a kid.

        •  What's stupid is, B-P never meant (0+ / 0-)

          that morally straight had anything to do with the sexual mores of the time.  

          The older editions talk about doing the right thing, being a good person, growing up to be a man who treats other people with respect, being kind to those less fortunate than you, etc.  

          The older editions have a particular emphasis on respecting women and treating them like fragile flowers (the pre-WWII versions).  Help your mother stuff.  Don't talk back.  Don't sass.  

          Having good morals was all about your CHARACTER.  Nothing else.  

          It's been taken over by the ultra conservative religions to be all about sexual behavior, when it was never meant to be about that at all, other than in the content of your character - people of good character don't generally behave "immorally."  Doesn't matter whether you're straight or gay - man or woman - your bedroom behavior is your business and there's no reason for anybody other than your partner to wonder if you're indulging in something they might consider "immoral."  What happens between mutually consenting adults is their own business.  

          What's OK with me, might not be OK with my mother's generation, but your own character defines your morals.  It used to be "immoral" to live together without getting married first.  Now it's no big deal.  Lots of people do it.  My mother still thinks it's awful, but she's 86.  My son & daughter-in-law lived together before they got married and it was no big deal to me, his dad, or her parents.  But any grandparent over 70 got weird about it.  

          My mom, despite the fact that her only grandchild is an Eagle Scout, was Salutatorian of his high school class, went to college on a scholarship (undergrad) and graduated high honors, went to vet school, was known for community service projects every where he went (used to tell us it felt weird to NOT being doing some conservation project or something to fix broken playgrounds and whatnot, so he always volunteered for stuff), became a vet, met another vet, fell in love, planned a wedding, got married, bought a house, etc.  but GASP! he and his fiancee rented a house together for a whole year before the wedding...  that's supposed to outweigh all the good things about him?  Why?  

          Worse, as far as my mom is concerned, my sister in law, who is my son's age (ex's half sister) is a lesbian.  She and her wife have a little boy, my nephew.  He's smart and funny and just turned 6 - perfect for Cub Scouts - we'd love for him to be able to participate, but with 2 moms, we're not signing anybody up.  My mom keeps asking "what about that poor little boy?"  "How does he explain that he doesn't have a daddy?"  I'm like, mom, he has two moms.  He's got aunts and uncles and cousins.  He's got grandparents.  Nobody asks him "where's your daddy?" or "why do you have 2 moms?"  His friends in school just know this is his family - their families might look different from his, but he's NOT a "poor little boy."  Both of my sisters-in-law are good people.  One is a fire fighter / paramedic and works with USAR.   The other teaches deaf children and is a court interpreter for the deaf.  Throughout their lives they've done well in school and at work, they've contributed to their community, volunteered to help others.  My SIL's USAR team is one of the ones that went to help after Katrina.  They went to Haiti after the earthquake.  They saved 7 people from a collapsed building, at the risk of their own lives.  Is she not a good person?  

          People can be so weird about "morals."  

          "Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential." - Barack Obama

          by Ricochet67 on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 05:47:03 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Meaning of morally straight (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheMeansAreTheEnd, wasatch

    I have had a connection with Scouting for more than 50 years, and the term "morally straight" has been in there all that time and was long before.  On the other hand, the use of the term "straight" as an antonym of "gay" is far younger.

    I just read through parts of my 1990 edition of the Scouting Handbook, and wee nothing in its discussion of "morally straight" that has one thing to do with sexual preference, although I will also say that other parts tacitly assume heterosexuality without commenting on the opposite orientation, and other parts referencing the desirability of following the teachings of one's own religion in the area of sex.

    76.7% of all statistics are made up.

    by threegoal on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 03:29:36 PM PST

  •  A minor correction & some background (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that you all might find interesting.  

    For 81 years of Scouting in America, these principles were what guided the organization. In 1988, James Dale in California earned his Eagle but was denied the badge just because he was gay. He in turn filed suit, and it went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in the BSA's favor, calling it a "private organization" who can decide what kind of membership they want.
    Dale got his Eagle.  As with most young men who get their Eagle and turn 18, they become Assistant Scoutmasters in their troops.  

    It wasn't until he went off to college (Rutgers) and became active in the Gay Student Alliance group there that he was kicked out, via letter from his council office.  

    Rolling Stone did an extensive article on the Supreme Court case and he said when he got the letter, he went home on the next school break, showed it to his Scoutmaster, who was just as surprised as he was.  It did not mention why they were kicking him out.  Apparently, they had to GO to the council office and ask why he had gotten the letter.  According to the old articles, they were very reluctant to tell him why and when they finally did tell him, they could not produce any documentation that it had always been a policy (that was in 1990).  I had been active in scouts since 1986 with my son, had been on district training teams, etc. and we had never heard of it either - we actually never heard of it in South Florida until it went to SCOTUS and nobody could produce any policy memo for us, either.

    From the Wikipedia link:
    James Dale

    The Boy Scouts of America is a private, non-profit organization engaged in instilling its system of values in young people. It asserts that homosexuality is inconsistent with those values.[2]

    When he was a student at Rutgers University, Dale became co-president of the Lesbian/Gay student alliance. In July 1990, he attended a seminar on the health needs of lesbian and gay teenagers, where he was interviewed.[3] An account of the interview was published and in a local newspaper and Dale was quoted as stating he was gay. BSA officials read the interview and expelled Dale from his position as assistant Scoutmaster of a New Jersey troop.[4] Dale, an Eagle Scout, filed suit in the New Jersey Superior Court, alleging, among other things, that the Boy Scouts had violated the state statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.[5] The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against the Boy Scouts, saying that they violated the State's public accommodations law by revoking Dale's membership based on his homosexuality.[6] Among other rulings, the court (1) held that application of that law did not violate the Boy Scouts' First Amendment right of expressive association because Dale's inclusion would not significantly affect members' ability to carry out their purposes; (2) determined that New Jersey has a compelling interest in eliminating the destructive consequences of discrimination from society, and that its public accommodations law abridges no more speech than is necessary to accomplish its purpose; and (3) held that Dale's reinstatement did not compel the Boy Scouts to express any message.[7]

    The Boy Scouts appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which granted certiorari to determine whether the application of New Jersey's public accommodations law violated the First Amendment.

    What Wikipedia doesn't say is that, in the newspaper interview, he mentioned that he was happy to be helping organize the Gay Alliance Students and that he felt comfortable being a leader, since earning his Eagle Scout had taught him all about leadership and initiative.  That's apparently what caught the council's attention.  I wonder, if he had not mentioned it, if anybody other than his family and friends would have paid attention to an article in a newspaper from a college town.  

    There's some good background info in this handout that goes with an Anti-Defamation League video that apparently school students can watch and discuss.

    Interestingly, Dale was not the first - Tim Curran was first (10 years earlier), but his case never got past the California Supreme Court to go all the way to SCOTUS.  The BSA won in California.  They lost the Dale case in NJ and they are the ones that pushed it all the way to SCOTUS.  

    Thank you for keeping this in the news - as former BSA members who really loved what the program had to offer, back when we didn't know we were breaking their "rules" by having gay or lesbian family members involved in our camping, hiking, merit badge sessions and spaghetti dinners, we really hope that they will wake up and realize by continuing to discriminate they are really losing out on the real original meaning of their program.  My nephew is 6.  We would love to be helping in a pack that he could join - except he has 2 moms.  Until they are welcome as a family, we're just not going to give the BSA any more support.  I spent thousands of dollars when we were active in Scouting.  My son made Eagle and went to Philmont and NOAC.  We donated to camperships and sold popcorn and paid for every stupid thing sold at the scout shop, every admission to camporees, jamborees, put thousands of miles on my car hauling kids to weekend camps and summer camps in 3 states for 20 years.  I'm no Verizon, UPS or big church with deep pockets - but there were thousands of members like me who lived on cereal and mac & cheese during the week so we could afford for our boys to be Scouts and participate in every aspect of Scouting.  

    "Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential." - Barack Obama

    by Ricochet67 on Sat Feb 09, 2013 at 05:22:56 PM PST

  •  Methodists have their own youth program (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Certain religious sects do not have any officially-sanctioned youth program within their ministry. Instead, they rely on the Scout program to fill that gap. The two that spring most prominently to mind are the LDS church and the Methodists."

    Methodists do indeed have a sanctioned youth program.
    In High School I was a Scout and also a member of my church's MYF -- Methodist Youth Fellowship. (Now it is called the UMYF).

    The subject of being gay never came up in my troop(s). But it barely came up in my High School, either. This was before the ruling against being a gay Scout. For that matter, sex of any kind really didn't come up.

  •  The only sexuality reference I remember from my (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    mid 70s handbook was about masturbation. (Without ever using the word.) Basically it went "no real boy" would do something that causes him to feel anxious.

    I am quite certain that the teachings about sex ed have moved into the 1950s.

    Society has evolved and Scouting needs to keep pace or it will move to the dustbin of American history. The urbanizatrion of America and the loss of space to development has really placed a damper on the movement. Add in familial mobility and the Scouts cannot afford to exclude members.

    I have 2 daughters so we were involved with girl scouts as a family. Girl Scouts as an organization is trying to evolve along with society.

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