The Scouts and the ACLU

Some time back, William Federer of the American Minute, published an article explaining the founding of the Boy Scouts, for which our founder was a proud member, an Eagle scout, a Vigil with the Order of the Arrow, and a staff member at Philmont, teaching leadership skills.

Scout Oath

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Scout Law

A Scout is:


Trouble for the Boy Scouts began in 1999 with a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU argues that the Pentagon is wrong to allow military sponsorship of Scout troops because Scouts are required to pledge belief in God. To the ACLU, that’s religious discrimination. The ACLU argued further that since military bases sponsor about 400 Boy Scout units and spend $2 million annually to support Boy Scout jamborees, the government is guilty, too.

The ACLU wanted to evict the Boy Scouts from military bases. This would constitute discrimination against the Boy Scouts of America, not by them, but this does not impress the ACLU.

The ACLU’s interpretation of the First Amendment provision “that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — sometimes characterized as the “separation of church and state,” and the basis for the ACLU’s argument — had  eroded in legal circles.

The framers of the Constitution never intended this clause to compel absolute separation of church and state. Philip Hamburger, a legal historian at the University of Chicago, argued that the separation doctrine was actually a late-nineteenth-century fabrication of anti-Catholic nativists. The clause itself says nothing about separation. Read it again:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

That implies neutrality toward religion, not absolute separation. Neutrality means that the Boy Scouts, like any civilian group that uses the bases, is only subject to law and to the approval of appropriate military authorities.

The second pressing problem occured on August 4, 1999 when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America is a “public accommodation” that must admit homosexuals as adult Scout leaders.

Here is legal force used to attack one of the oldest and finest youth charities in our country.

This was the first time that a state’s top court has held Scouting to be a public accommodation.

The New Jersey court ruled that one young man must be readmitted as a Scout leader under the state’s law against discrimination. It offered two grounds for the finding that Scouting is a “public accommodation.”

First, it is large, advertises widely for members, celebrates openness and inclusion, and has influence.

Second, nothing in its creed or practice carries any particular moral meaning, or is devoted to anything that can really be called religion.

Never mind that Scouting thinks, and has always thought, differently. Their Honors knew better.

The chief justice wrote the opinion of the court. The core of it transforms Scouting’s devotion to “moral fitness” into simple relativism:

“Although one of BSA’s stated purposes is to encourage members’ ethical development, BSA does not endorse any specific set of moral beliefs. Instead, ‘moral fitness’ is deemed an individual choice.”

Her Honor extracted this sunbeam, not from a cucumber as in Swift, but from a fine passage in the Boy Scout Handbook that speaks of a Scout’s duty to follow his conscience. When the Scouts encourage a boy to follow his conscience, the justices interpret this to mean that whatever the boy thinks is right is indeed right. They seem not to know that conscience cannot speak on both sides of a moral question, there being good conscience and bad conscience. Acts can be “unconscionable.” Scouting is built upon this distinction.

The Jersey justices did not seem to know it, which is a commentary on our time.

The justices conclusion was that the Boy Scouts stand for nothing in particular. This in turn prepares the way for the conclusion that Scouting is a public accommodation.

Scouts, in years past, learned lessons about life and the value of being a person of character and integrity. When you stop and think about it, Scouting is unlike any other youth program. Scouting fosters the development of the whole person and offers youth the opportunity to participate in activities that will help launch them on a successful course for life.

The moral teaching of Scouting is illustrated in the ninth edition of the Official Boy Scout Handbook, issued in 1979. All Scouts has every reason to know the contents of this handbook because they are required to carry it with them on most Scouting events. The introduction calls the handbook a Scout’s “dog-eared companion” through life. It also contains the passage:

“When you live up to the trust of fatherhood your sex life will fit into God’s wonderful plan of creation. Fuller understanding of wholesome sex behavior can bring you lifelong happiness. A moment of so-called sexual freedom can turn into a lifetime of regrets” (p. 526; the following page begins with the heading “Once a Scout, Always a Scout”).

It is a lofty goal well worth obtaining and following.

Our Founders viewed such moral training as essential in a republican form of government. The Declaration of Rights affixed to the beginning of the Virginia Constitution of 1776, for example, provides “[t]hat no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.” The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 echoes the sentiment: “[T]he happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality.”

Perhaps the clearest example of the Founders’ views was penned by James Madison, writing as Publius in the 55th number of The Federalist Papers:

Republican government presupposes the existence of [virtue] in a higher degree than any other form. Were [people as depraved as some opponents of the Constitution say they are,] the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.

The Founders viewed a virtuous citizenry as an essential pre-condition of republican self-government, and they encouraged the development of private associations that, like the Boy Scouts, were devoted to the development of moral character.

Maybe the next question you might want to ask the next new politician is simply, “Were you in scouting?” Do you still stand and believe in the original message of Scouting?  

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