OP-ED: Stop prejudice – don’t boycott Scouting

By RABBI ROBERT TOBIN

As of January 1, 2013, The Golda Och Academy (a Solomon Schechter Conservative Jewish Day School in West Orange, NJ) will join the Reform movement’s boycott of the Boy Scouts of America. This is an unfortunate and misguided decision, despite its noble moral stance.

In a nutshell, Golda Och has determined that the national policy of the Boy Scouts of America is incompatible with the values of the school, and that all ties must be immediately severed when the school’s current troop and pack charters expire on December 31, 2012.  I agree that the national policy is bigoted and wrong. But the school’s stance is uninformed and ill-advised.  The action does not address the issue, but hides from it in the language of moral boycott.

Here is the policy of the Boy Scouts of America. Boy scouts units (troops and packs) may discriminate against inclusion of homosexual adult leaders (“Scouters”) and youth members (“Scouts”).  Please note that no troop or pack that has rejected that policy has ever been sanctioned. The policy is not forced upon the units, it is available to the units.  The Golda Och units always rejected that policy, as it is in conflict with the morals and values of the charter institution: the school.

Why does the BSA hold so tightly to this policy of bigotry and prejudice (in my view)? We must understand how morals are viewed in Boy Scouts before we condemn them.

1) The Scout Oath proclaims a duty to God.
2) The Scout Law proclaims that every scout and scouter adheres to certain character traits, including “Reverence.”
3) The BSA has a “Declaration of Religious Principle” which is often published, but especially emphasized in Chaplain Training.
4) Individual religious and moral values of conscience are determined by the Individual Scout and Scouter in the context of their own home faith community.
5) Group religious and moral values of conscience are determined by the Charter Organization.
6) Scouting is a BOTTOM UP organization, with boys in charge of the program, rather than Top Down with the national bureaucracy in charge of the program.

So let’s look at the key document here: The Declaration of Religious Principle, as quoted from the BSA website:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious training. Its policy is that the home and organization or group with which a member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life. Only persons willing to subscribe to this Declaration of Religious Principle and to the Bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America shall be entitled to certificates of membership.

Now, here is the main issue: Since “the home and organization or group with which a member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life” and homosexuality as a norm is determined in the moral and religious fabric of that home and church/synagogue/mosque/temple life, it is CONTRARY TO THE BOY SCOUTS OWN GUIDING PRINCIPLES TO SET A STANDARD ON THIS ISSUE AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL.

Since over 50% of the national youth in scouting come from Catholic, Mormon and other Charter Organizations that discriminate against homosexuals, the National Council represents that majority.  But they are wrong to do so.

There is room for hope and leverage for change.  The language quoted can be, and is being used in the internal debate within BSA about the appropriate or inappropriate nature of the National Policy against homosexual involvement in the BSA.  This can, and will change in time, because it is untenable as an action against the faith of participating youth and adults.

Now, if we boycott the BSA, we no longer are present.  We are no longer suffering at the hands of religious persecution – which would be contrary to the bedrock principles of the BSA itself.  Would the buses in the south have desegregated if Rosa Parks had boycotted the bus?  No.  She had to get on the bus, sit down, and refuse to move for things to change.

Involvement and engagement are the routes to change.  But Golda Och Academy, the Reform Movement, and other boycotting organizations are simply taking the easy moral high ground – and changing nothing.

Except that the boycott does change one thing:  the lives of the boys who are currently in their pack/troop.  These children, who have dedicated themselves to be honest trustworthy loyal helpful friendly courteous kind obedient cheerful thrifty brave clean and reverent as Jews in America have had their unit taken out of their school, and judged for the sins of others.  They are role models for Jewish involvement as citizens.  Their morals, including the morality of inclusion, will no longer be present in this conversation.  They are being told that they should not associate with people who are different, whose morals are different, whose religion is different.  They are being told to get back behind the ghetto walls into a morally and religiously homogeneous world, rather than engage in relationships that can change the world.  It is a loss that they can no longer claim with pride that their scouting represents the best of their school in the world.  That is a change we could – and should – have avoided.

(Editor’s note: Rabbi Robert Tobin is the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Shalom in West Orange, NJ. This opinion piece ran on Rabbi Tobin’s personal blog just prior to the announcement last week from Golda Och Academy. If you disagree with his opinion, we invite your reply.)

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