Can one be both a homosexual and "morally straight," according to the Boy Scout Code? A recent appellate court ruling suggests not only that sexual orientation is morally neutral, but that imparting humanitarian ideals should be the Scouts' only legitimate goal. Greg discusses the ramifications of this idea for people on both sides of the table.
An appeals court in New Jersey just ruled that the Boy Scout ban on homosexuals is illegal.
If you were ever a Boy Scout, you learned the Boy Scout code by heart. It's an oath that reflects a deep commitment to practical virtues like trustworthiness, faithfulness, thriftiness, and faithfulness to God and country. These virtues aren't much encouraged nowadays, but they ought to be. In fact, parents would do well to make the Boy Scout oath a moral benchmark for their children.
It's my understanding that Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts in 1908, was a committed Christian who wanted to build Christian character in young men. The Boy Scout organization has always had the development of morally straight young men as a primary goal.
According to the Scouts, homosexuality is not consistent with moral straightness, with good character. Most people agree. Though this view might be mistaken--we might be mistaken about all kinds of things we think are profoundly immoral, like theft, deceit, dishonesty, injustice--it's still a reasonable judgment, arguably, though it's not politically correct. If a case can be made that homosexuality is immoral, then the Boy Scouts of America is justified in promoting sexual straightness as part of moral straightness.
But the court has now ruled that such a distinction is not acceptable.
I suspect the judges thought their ruling was morally neutral. It's implied in the Superior Court appellate panel's remarks. They stated, "There is absolutely no evidence before us...supporting a conclusion that a gay scout master, solely because he is homosexual, does not possess the strength of character necessary to properly care for, or to impart BSA humanitarian ideals to the young boys in his charge."*
A couple of things are interesting about this comment. First of all, the court seems to think that the only legitimate goal of the Boy Scouts of America is to impart humanitarian ideals, to help them to be do-gooders. "Do a good deed daily." "Be a good citizen." "Promote humanitarian ideals." Being morally straight should not be an important goal for the Boy Scouts, apparently according to the court. As long as a homosexual can pursue humanitarian ideals, that ought to be good enough for the Boy Scouts.
Let me tell you something, friends. That is not good enough for the Boy Scouts, because that is not the only important goal of the Boy Scouts of America.
What if the court were to arbitrarily decide that what ought to be good enough for all churches is that they simply pursue humanitarian ideals? This theological stuff, this moral stuff, that's all just riff-raff. That's just their personal, private beliefs, and they should keep them in the closet. But as long as they're pursuing humanitarian ideals which help society-- and a homosexual (or anybody else for that matter) who might live morally inconsistent with the church's private, parochial, moral viewpoint can still accomplish those humanitarian ideals-- then who is the church to say that they shouldn't be part of that enterprise?
Well, my question is, "Who is the court to tell any organization what kinds of goals and ideals they can actually pursue?" Who is the court to legislate, by court action, that homosexuality has nothing to do with character? Maybe it doesn't, for the sake of argument, but that's not for the court to decide.
Second, the court has taken sides on a volatile moral debate in this country, and has said by this action that there are no moral ramifications to homosexuality. It gave this judgment against the recommendations of the lower courts, who said that homosexuality is a wrong, or at least a moral concern.
So the Boy Scouts are under siege a little bit here, and in a rather interesting way. The spokesperson for the Boy Scouts said that the organization is going to appeal to the New Jersey State Supreme Court, and both the Boy Scouts of America and the Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund (on the side of the homosexuals) expect it will take a U.S. Supreme Court decision to straighten this out.
Gregg Shields, the spokesman for the national office of the Boy Scouts, said, "A person who engages in homosexual conduct is not a role model for [traditional] values, and accordingly, we don't offer leadership or membership in the Boy Scouts of America to avowed homosexuals."
Here's a question I have for the Court. What can a Boy Scout be expelled for? If the concern here is discrimination, isn't any moral objection by the Boy Scouts a type of discrimination? Of course it is. They discriminate in favor of one who is moral, by their standards, against another who isn't.
The problem with discrimination is it's actually a good thing that people usually think of as bad. It's good to be able to discriminate between good and evil, right and wrong, wise and foolish, proper and improper. It isn't good when those distinctions are lost and we're incapable of discriminating properly.
Now, there are some kinds of discriminations that are inappropriate. If we identify as evil something that turns out to be morally benign--like skin color or gender--we've made a serious mistake. Discriminating for those reasons is going to be wrong because things like skin color and gender are morally irrelevant.
So those types of discriminations ought to be disallowed. But one discrimination we have always been allowed to make pertains to association with people based on moral conduct. I know of no other circumstance except for homosexuality where we're not allowed to make decisions on who we associate with based on their moral conduct.
So, in this particular case, the Court has taken the odd step of actually proclaiming as morally neutral that which many people consider to be morally significant-- sexual behavior-- and specifically, what many people consider to be immoral-- homosexuality. This is not neutral.
If the Boy Scouts are not allowed to say homosexuality is morally crooked, then what other things might the court arbitrarily proclaim as morally benign? The Boy Scouts have not plucked this moral rule out of thin air. A case can be made against homosexuality, and a good one. So what can the Boy Scouts enforce inside their own organization when they have a goal of moral character or moral straightness?
One other thing about this, by the way. The Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund was on the side of the homosexuals. I presume this organization has a staff. I presume they hire people to accomplish a particular purpose.
Let me ask you a question. Do you think that the Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund would hire me, believing as I do that homosexuality is immoral? I doubt it. Could I then bring a suit against the Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund because I was discriminated against for my moral beliefs? I suspect not. The Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund would be within their rights to turn me down.
But now the question is, "Why? Why is this a justifiable discrimination?" The answer is, because the Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund has a particular goal, and the sentiments, conduct, language and activities of me as a job applicant are directly contrary to the goal of that organization.
Well, if that's a legitimate reason not to hire me for a job at the Lamda Legal Defense and Education Fund, then why isn't it a good reason not to include a homosexual young man in the Boy Scouts, an organization whose express goal is to build morally straight young men, a concept which excludes the practice of homosexuality--a practice inconsistent with moral straightness?
*Quotations are from the Los Angeles Times , 3/3/98, A10.
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