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Boy Scout board delays decision on gay Scouts, leaders

Published: Monday, July 27 2015 7:52 p.m. MDT

A Boy Scout wears an Eagle Scot neckerchief during the annual Boy Scouts Parade and Report to State in the House Chambers at the Texas State Capitol, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in Austin, Texas. (Associated Press) A Boy Scout wears an Eagle Scot neckerchief during the annual Boy Scouts Parade and Report to State in the House Chambers at the Texas State Capitol, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, in Austin, Texas. (Associated Press)

The Boy Scouts of America’s national executive board didn't vote Wednesday whether to discontinue its prohibition of gay Scouts and leaders, instead agreeing to delay a decision until the annual meeting of its National Council in May.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the single-largest sponsor of Boy Scout units in the nation, commented favorably on the decision to delay the vote but urged others not to speculate or assume anything about the church's position on the proposed policy change.

"For 100 years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has enjoyed a strong, rewarding relationship with Boy Scouts of America as both organizations have worked to build and strengthen the moral character and leadership skills of young men," said a statement released by the church. "We believe BSA has acted wisely in delaying a vote on this policy issue until the implications can be more carefully evaluated."

A statue of a Boy Scout stands in front of the National Scouting Museum, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, in Irving, Texas. (Associated Press) A statue of a Boy Scout stands in front of the National Scouting Museum, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, in Irving, Texas. (Associated Press)

The statement continued: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is carefully assessing the consequences of this policy change on the Church’s program to build and strengthen young men, but it has not commented on it and a decision will not be made until we have assessed all of the implications. We caution others not to speculate about our position or to assume that individual Latter-day Saints inside or outside the scouting movement speak for the Church. Neither has the Church launched any campaign either to effect or prevent a policy change."

In a prepared statement issued Wednesday morning, the BSA national executive board said its decision to delay came "after careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization." As a result of that consideration, "the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America's National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy."

BSA spokesman Deron Smith said the national executive board will listen to the input of Scouts, Scouters, sponsors and donors from around the nation and then prepare a resolution that will be presented to some 1,400 Scout officials who are expected to attend the annual meeting of Scouting’s national council May 22-24 in Grapevine, Texas.

The BSA national council consists of hundreds of volunteer Scouters who administer Scouting programs all around the country. The national executive board is the organization’s governing board, which consists of the national president, regional presidents and as many as 70 elected board members.

Larry Coppock, a Scouting official with the Methodist Church, which sponsors the second-largest number of Scout units after the LDS Church, said the delay was "what we were hoping for, an opportunity to have further dialogue and meaningful discussions."

And Roger Oldham of the Southern Baptist Convention, another leading sponsor of Scouting, said holding off on a decision will give the Scouts time to analyze the legal and practical implications of lifting the ban.

“We are really encouraged by the national board’s decision to delay the vote,” said Kay Godfrey, spokesman for the Great Salt Lake Council, one of the largest local councils in the Scouting organization. “This gives us an opportunity to engage in some kind of dialogue with our sponsors and our members so that their feelings on the matter can be accurately represented in the voting.”

The Great Salt Lake Council is part of a coalition of 33 Scout councils from around the country that organized to urge the board to delay the decision.

“Our voices have been heard,” Godfrey said Wednesday morning. “I salute the national executive board for listening, and for slowing this process down a little. Now we have to take advantage of the time we’ve been given.”

Godfrey said the local council doesn’t have a “preconceived agenda” or an official position about the ultimate decision in this case, although he told KSL Radio's Doug Wright Wednesday morning that of the "hundreds" of emails and letters he has received during the past week, "about 95 percent" favor maintaining the current Boy Scout standards for members and leaders.

In its prepared statement, the national board “directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers’ work on a resolution on membership standards.”

Based on the immediate reaction to the decision to delay, that discussion will be fervent and intense.

According to thehill.com, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the Obama Administration does not “have a response to the (Boy Scouts’) process” but that the president “opposes discrimination in all forms.” During a pre-Super Bowl interview by CBS News last Sunday, President Obama said, “Gays and lesbians should have access and opportunity the same way everybody else does in every institution and walk of life.”

“The Scouts are a great institution that is promoting young people and exposing them to opportunities and leadership that will serve people for the rest of their lives,” the president added.

Jay L. Lenrow, the former national chairman of the Jewish Committee on Scouting, told the Wall Street Journal continuing the ban violates the Scouts' pluralistic mission. Continuing the ban is "absolutely allowing the teachings of certain religious groups to trump the teachings of other religious groups," he said. "These are not our principles."

Those legal implications could be significant. Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern University who wrote a book critical of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the Supreme Court decision that supported Scouting's right to establish their own values and standards, told thehill.com that even without a national policy prohibiting gay Scouts and Scouters, individual Scouting units "can invoke their own policies, and that would likely stand up in court. But, he added, "they would now be open to pressure and protest within their own communities."

But Brad Hankins, campaign director of Scouts for Equality, a group that delivered several boxes of signatures for a petition urging the national executive board to change the policy, told USA Today his group wouldn't accept the council-by-council approach to Scouting's gay policy.

"We don't want to see Scouting gerrymandered into blue and red districts," he said.

Neither does Brandy Pryde, a Scout leader from Texas who told CNN her church would drop Scouting if the proposed policy change is adopted.

"What happens when we go camping and there's units that allow gays and homosexuals and there's units that don't?" Pryde said. "How are we going to keep them separated from those units and how are we going to instill in our kids Christian values and the biblical truth if that's allowed in our program?"

"This issue is not a gay rights issue," scouter Eric Montague told CNN. "It's a gender-attraction issue and it's also a politics issue. As a local scout leader, I don't need to worry about gay rights — that shouldn't be my role; that shouldn't be what I do. And to push that decision upon me is not the best way to go."

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