National Jewish Committee on Scouting announces initiative
The National Jewish Committee on Scouting (NJCOS) hailed the historic decision made by the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that eliminated all national barriers for gay adult leadership. At the same time a new effort was announced to reconnect Scouting with Jewish institutions who had previously abandoned or shut down units in protest of what was seen as discriminatory policies towards gay youth and adults.
“Today we have an historic opportunity to bring Scouting back to Judaism,” proclaimed NJCOS chairman Bruce Chudacoff. “With over 1,000 Reform and Reconstructionist temples and synagogues in America there is a vast pool of young Jewish kids and adults who can take advantage of the time-tested methods of Scouting to help instill values, leadership skills and more in the leaders of tomorrow,” announced NJCOS chair Bruce Chudacoff after the decision.
While that decision affirmed the right of religious organizations to determine for themselves the standards for adult leaders so as not to violate their own religious principles, it removed any national restrictions based on sexual orientation. The new membership standards took effect immediately on Monday, July 27 and will also allow any leaders who had previously been barred because of sexual orientation an opportunity to reapply without prejudice.
The new membership standards followed a recommendation from the BSA’s executive committee that the policy be amended. A statement by BSA president and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in May hinted that a change was coming. “Between internal challenges and potential legal conflicts,” he announced at the organization’s national meeting in Atlanta, “the BSA finds itself in an unsustainable position, a position that makes us vulnerable to the possibility the courts simply will order us at some point to change our membership policy.
With its religious emblems program for Jewish youth and adults and its embrace of the Scouting values inculcated in the Scouting Oath and Law, Chudacoff stated in a video that “Scouting’s values are truly Jewish values.”
Jewish chartering organizations such as synagogues and Jewish centers account for just 146 units nationwide and 3,268 youth, according to the latest statistics from the BSA. These numbers reflect a precipitous slide of as much as 70% over the course of the past 13 years as the issue of gay adult leadership in the BSA became more pronounced within the Jewish community.
Reform leaders in the former Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now the Union for Reform Jewry (URJ), and its rabbinic arm, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) had denounced Scouting’s ban on openly gay leaders since the 1990s. The URJ’s Commission on Social Action of the Reform Action Committee outlined a series of prohibitive acts regarding Reform Jewry’s interaction with the BSA in 2000. Those acts included shutting down units and removing funding from the BSA until the adult leadership policies against avowed gays was amended.
Over the course of the past decade, many Conservative Jews had also expressed disdain for the BSA’s policy, which rabbis and lay leaders deemed discriminatory.
When a national vote was taken in 2013, in which gay Scouting youth were accepted fully, the NJCOS was the only national religious committee to advocate for more change in membership standards. Churches like the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and the United Methodist Church, which together boast more than 48,000 units and over 786,00 Scouting youth, took a wait-and-see attitude.
Monday’s decision allows religious organizations the right to determine their own local standards, according to the BSA’s Declaration of Religious Principles. The Declaration of Religious Principles has been a cornerstone of the charter partnership process that exists within the BSA. Unlike the Girl Scouts of the USA, which charters each of its units on a national basis, the National Council of the BSA presents an annual charter through each of its 273 local councils, comprising a specific geographic region. Most charters are administered by a charitable organization, of which more than 60% are formed by religious institutions.
Councils are further broken down into districts, which allow Scouting executives to concentrate efforts in specific neighborhoods or regions.
In New Orleans there are no units chartered to Jewish institutions. After 42 years, Pack 26 and its charter partner Isidore Newman School, formerly severed ties in 2001 over the issue. The school claimed that its own non-discriminatory policy towards gay faculty and administration was at odds, specifically with the Scouting policy that barred avowed homosexuals.
After four years of charter partnership between the local Jewish Committee on Scouting and St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, plans had been put into place to relocate Pack 26 at Congregation Beth Israel in the Lakeview area. The Hurricane Katrina related flooding that decimated the Orthodox synagogue and eventually led to its relocation in Metairie also effectively killed the pack, which had no organization willing or able to house it.
The Southeast Louisiana Council headquartered in Metairie stretches from Terrebonne Parish in the west to St. Bernard and Orleans Parish in the west and throughout Jefferson and Plaquemines Parishes in the south and even incorporates a portion of St. Tammany Parish in the north.
The five districts in the Southeast Louisiana Council are Bayou, which stretches into Houma and Raceland; Cypress, which incorporates Slidell and some sections of the North Shore; Fleur-de-lis, which includes all of Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes; Cataouatche, which accounts for the West Bank; and the Pelican District, which takes in all of Metairie and much of Kenner.