Boy Scouts to make decision on gays this week — or are they?

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 10:00 p.m. MST

“Typically, an officer of the board submits a resolution at the board meeting and a vote is taken,” Smith said. But in the case of the upcoming vote on the proposed policy change, the Christian Post reports there have also been pre-meeting meetings with a number of key religious officials and board members, including representatives from the LDS Church (with about 38 percent of all chartered Scouting units, according to BSA statistics), the Catholic Church (8.5 percent) and the Southern Baptist Convention (4.1 percent).

“(Chief Scout Executive) Wayne Brock visited with me last week, signaling the possibility they would consider this proposal at their February board meeting,” Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President and CEO Frank Page told reporter Alex Murashko. “He specifically asked the Southern Baptist Convention not to oppose this move. Of course, I refused to make this concession.”

LDS and Catholic officials declined comment on the proposed changes, although LDS spokesman Michael Purdy acknowledged that “the church is aware that BSA is contemplating a change in its leadership policy.”

With almost 70 percent of all Scouting units chartered to faith-based organizations, local Scout officials around the nation are concerned about the long-term implications of the proposed policy change, including divisiveness or even the termination of Scouting relationships, regardless of how the voting concludes.

“I don’t know exactly how the LDS Church is going to respond to this,” said Godfrey, who indicated that “99 percent” of the units in the Great Salt Lake Council are affiliated with the LDS Church. “I know they’ve been brought into the discussion. But we’ll have to see how our major institution is going to respond before we know how it will affect us.”

Although BSA officials have not been available for interviews on the subject, spokesman Smith has been responding to media questions via email in an attempt to explain what the proposed policy change would mean to the venerable 113-year-old institution.

“If passed, this would mean there would no longer be any national membership policy regarding sexual orientation, but the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting will accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles and religious beliefs,” Smith said in an emailed response to questions from the Deseret News.

“The Boy Scouts would not, under any circumstances, dictate a position to units, members or parents,” Smith continued. “Nor would it require any chartered organization to act in ways inconsistent with that organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs.”

All of which sounds great on the surface, said Matthew Staver, Kelly Shackelford and Gary McCaleb of the Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal group that focuses on religious liberty issues. But in a letter to Scout executives dated last Friday, the three attorneys warned of “unintended consequences” to the proposed change. By shifting responsibility for the decision on whether or not to admit gay Scouts and Scouters, they said, BSA will open local councils to “new lawsuits under antidiscrimination laws and policies,” since they would no longer be under the legal protection of a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Boy Scouts of America v. Dale) that supported the rights of the Boy Scouts of America “as an organization” to “define its own mission and its views regarding morality and the values BSA seeks to instill in boys and young men.”

“While it is possible many of these local units would prevail in their lawsuits,” the three lawyers wrote, “many others might not, and the costs of litigation in either event would be nothing short of crippling for BSA.”

The Supreme Court decision to which they refer was issued in 2000. Seven months ago a special committee of Scout leaders and volunteers reviewed the policy and concluded that it is the “absolute best” thing for the organization.

Since then, however, several large corporate financial sponsors of Scouting — including the Intel Foundation and UPS — have either withdrawn their financial support or indicated they are reconsidering their support for the organization based on the policy.

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