Isolated legal challenges to the Scouting program should be vigorously defended against to keep Scouting strong and serving youths as the program was intended, national and state Scouting officials say.

And an official of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Tuesday he would recommend that the church withdraw from the Boy Scouts of America if the church is forced to register homosexual Scouts or to register those who will not adhere to "Duty to God" provisions of the Scout Oath and Law.As the largest sponsoring religious organization in the Boy Scouts, the church has more than 342,000 boys and 139,557 adult leaders in 24,560 units enrolled in Scouting nationwide.

Of the total, there are 140,710 boys in 9,174 LDS Church-sponsored units in four Utah councils.

Scouting officials say that loss of the church as a Scouting sponsor would have a crippling effect on the program, which nationally has 4.3 million registered boys in Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting and Exploring and 1.2 million adult volunteers.

Elder Jack H. Goaslind, a member of the church's First Quorum of Seventy, president of the church's Young Men program and a member of the Boy Scouts' National Executive Board, reiterated his position Tuesday that he is not in a position of making final decisions regarding the church's involvement in Scouting. That is the responsibility of the First Presidency, he said.

But he said he would recommend the church, which adopted the Scouting program three years after Scouting was charted by Congress in 1910, withdraw from the Boy Scouts if it is forced to follow court rulings on the admittance of girls, homosexuals and atheism.

A few months ago Elder Goaslind represented the church and testified at the request of the Boy Scouts in a Los Angeles area court case involving an openly homosexual man who wants to be a Scoutmaster. And earlier this month, the LDS general authority testified for the Boy Scouts in a Chicago case of a man whose 8-year-old son wants to become a Cub Scout. The father and boy refuse to profess belief in God, as required in the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

A belief in and reverence for God "was the basis upon which Scouting was originally organized," Elder Goaslind said.

Regarding girls in Boy Scouting, Elder Goaslind said the church has always taken a stand against having women enrolled as participants in Scouting programs for boys. The attorney of an 8-year-old Florida girl has sued the Boy Scouts of America, challenging the Cub Scouts for entry into the all-male organization.

"We have our own Young Women program. Scouting is a boys' program," said Elder Goaslind, noting that chartered organizations such as the church were given the option by the Boy Scouts of whether to accept or reject its policy. He said the church's policy is that young women will not be registered in LDS-sponsored Explorer posts.

Blake Lewis, a national spokesman for the Boy Scouts and an official of Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, told the Deseret News Tuesday that Scouting "would certainly feel the impact if the church for some reason chose not to continue its relationship with the BSA."

But he and some other officials seem to indicate that the Boy Scouts would survive.

Lewis said only public schools exceed the church in the number (1,096,425) of youths sponsored. He said the Boy Scouts of America, like the United Way (which helps fund some Scouting councils), is a private organization and has a constitutional right to maintain and establish its policies, including membership standards.

"People want to make the Boy Scouts out as a public entity. That clearly is not the case," Lewis said, promising that the organization will continue to "vigorously defend the position of Scouting in all the court cases."

Earl Armstrong, director of field services for the Great Salt Lake Council, said having the church pull out of the Boy Scouts would have a definite negative effect on the national and local programs.

The Salt Lake Council will end calendar 1991 with "about 62,310 youths enrolled, a slight increase over 1990," he said. The council is surpassed in enrollment numbers only by a New York City council.

If the LDS Church were to drop out of the Boy Scouts "we would still have a Scout council. It just wouldn't be as large. We operate under the premise that the courts will rule in our favor," said Armstrong, who said he is not personally aware of any similar legal challenges affecting the Salt Lake council.

"Scouting still stands upon the principle that a boy has to take upon himself the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. Scouting will never change its values or principles. That I am certain of. If it does, then it is no longer the Boy Scouts of America," Armstrong said, referring partly to a statement made by Ben H. Love, the organization's chief executivedd.

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(Additional information)

Utah's Boy Scout Councils

Council Registered scouts Estimated % of

LDS Scouts United Way

financial help

Utah National Parks 46,000+ 97.5 No

Cache Valley 8,464 97 Yes

Lake Bonneville 23,792 90 Yes

Great Salt Lake 62,244 80+ Yes