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On Choosing a Tolerant Uniform

I’ve been thinking about the recent discussion amongst the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America regarding their policy on discrimination based on sexual orientation, and here’s what I’ve come to:

They shouldn’t change their policy, because I don’t think they actually believe in equality and non-discrimination for gay scouts and leaders. This is a fundamentally religious-oriented group, overwhelmingly housed and funded by churches and religious organizations, and they have their core beliefs (not to mention the fact that they’re a private organization who are allowed to discriminate as openly as they want, per the U.S. Supreme Court).

Let’s not force the Boy Scouts to act in a manner that doesn’t align with their values. Rather, just pull your kid out, no matter how much the local council or the individual troop begs you to stay on the grounds of their own non-discrimination policy. Make a statement to the organization as a whole, and to every individual associated with it: I will put my kid in a youth group which actually believes and enacts non-discrimination. If that group doesn’t exist, start it yourself. It’s time to wear a uniform and a banner of genuine tolerance and equality, not one that jumps on a buzzword bandwagon because they need to increase their membership, income, and donor base.

Like many people, I personally subscribe to the tenets of the Scout Law that I learned as a child and a young teen: to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. But if we’ve somehow talked ourselves into believing that the Boy Scouts of America is the only place to learn and live those values, then we have a much bigger problem than their organization discriminating against the LGBTQ community.

Todd Silverman is a Rabbinic-Education student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Los Angeles). Prior to entering seminary, he taught elementary school in West LA and worked in the Human Services field with developmentally disabled adults in Syracuse, NY. He was a Cub Scout and Boy Scout from grades 1-8, until NFTY and his synagogue’s youth group came calling. This post was originally published on California Faith for Equality.

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3 Responses to “On Choosing a Tolerant Uniform”

  1. Dear Todd,

    Thank you for speaking out. I appreciate your taking deep thought over this matter. I do, however, disagree with your conclusion, because I have seen evidence that contradicts one of your major premises: “Let’s not force the Boy Scouts to act in a manner that doesn’t align with their values.” I have been working with Scouts for Equality, which is an organization consisting of thousands of scouts (many of them Eagle Scouts) for whom this discriminatory policy, held by the national leadership, is NOT reflective of their own values. These dedicated Scouts, deeply pained by this policy, argue both that discrimination is NOT a value of Scouting (in fact, that this policy flies in the face of the Scout Law you quoted above), and it is also not reflective of the majority of active Scouts. I have found this to be true anecdotally, speaking to many Scouts, and local leaders, who deplore the ban, but have (up until recently) despaired for the national leadership to ever lift it.

    As a former Scout, and the parent of a once (and hopefully again, future) Scout, I want the BSA to embody the ideals that I believed in as a former member; to reflect the troop of which I was a member, which was chartered by a Methodist Church, but included Jews (me and my brother), Mormons, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, and atheists. I want them to openly welcome those with a diversity of religious beliefs (or different moral foundations). I want them to resume being a place where Scouts can grow and become better people, regardless of to whom they may be sexually attracted.

    Right now, this fight is being fought by valiant allies inside the BSA – including the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. I think that we, as a movement, need to offer them our support – within whatever parameters we find necessary. In the past, the Reform Movement had a great relationship with the BSA, partnering with them in the shared task of raising a better generation of Americans (My father, a retired Rabbi, was a member of his Reform synagogue’s troop). I feel that our job is to not walk away from this struggle, but to provide equal pressure from the (reluctantly) outside.

    Rabbi Joel N. Abraham
    Temple Sholom, Scotch Plains/Fanwood, NJ
    Reform Jewish Voice of NJ, co-Chair
    former Star Scout

  2. Robb Kushner

    Excellent post. As a former boy scout, I have felt shame over how the BSA organization has refused to enter the modern world of America. Anything less than an open-hearted and full-throated endorsement of non-discrimination and inclusion just won’t cut it.


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