For a century, the Boy Scouts of America has provided the young men of Utah an unparalleled program of character development through outdoor adventure, leadership training and service. The state's communities have benefited enormously — not just from the untold hours of service — but from the values of the Scout Oath and Law that have been instilled into the hearts of so many.
Later this week, the National Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts convenes to consider a resolution that would change the membership standards of the Boy Scouts by removing a restriction that could be interpreted to deny membership to youth members on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.
The resolution under review would maintain the current policy for adult leaders. That policy requires applicants to "possess the moral, educational, and emotional qualities" that would benefit youth and adhere to the precepts of Scouting, but it does withhold membership from "individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."
The new membership standard emphasizes scouting as a youth program that demands an oath of moral rectitude. Consequently, any sexual conduct by youth of scouting age would be contrary to the virtues of scouting.
The resolution further reinforces what scouts have known as their duty to God by making adherence to what is known as a "Declaration of Religious Principle" a key requirement for youth membership.
The constitutional principle of free association gives BSA the right to determine its membership requirements, a principle that was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 2000 with regard to the BSA's policy of excluding openly gay adults from leadership positions. As recently as 2010 the BSA, after careful review, reaffirmed its membership standards.
One of the unique features of scouting is its widely dispersed system of governance. Scouting is not centrally organized but rather is administered through chartered organizations. Schools, units of local government, nonprofit organizations and churches interested in serving the youth in their community have been the kind of organizations that have sponsored scout units.
But as the complex issues regarding sexual orientation play out in different ways within potential chartered organizations themselves and their financial backers, it was inevitable that these issues would reassert themselves within BSA.
Although this current process of review began precipitously, we have been pleased with how the BSA has used the issue as an opportunity to thoroughly research the concerns of its members and leaders. We are further encouraged that instead of leaving the core issue of membership to the individual chartering organizations, the BSA has sought to maintain a single national standard.
We are particularly pleased to see how BSA began its review with the core tenets of its own oath and law. By turning to those tenets, BSA has clearly articulated a uniform standard of sexual rectitude for its youth. In a sex-saturated world, it is inspiring to have a youth program clearly affirm sexual innocence and purity as a standard appropriate for all adolescents.
As scouting moves forward from this week's historic vote, its future success will continue to spring from where its past success has originated: from the devotion of dedicated, well-trained volunteers who have internalized the noble ideals of the Scout Oath and Law, and who understand that they never stand so tall as when they kneel to help a boy embrace those same ideals.