With LGBT ban lifted, Reform recommends renewing ties with Boy Scouts of America
(JTA) — After a 14-year break, Reform Jewish leaders have recommended that Jewish institutions re-establish ties with the Boy Scouts of America.
The change of heart came in response to an announcement last Monday by the Boy Scouts of America that it was canceling its policy of banning gay adults from being scout leaders and other employees.
In 2001 — shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to ban adult homosexual employees — the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Commission on Social Change recommended that the nearly 300 Reform synagogues that sponsored or hosted Boy Scout troops sever ties with the organization. That recommendation had remained en force until now.
According to the Religious Action Center, the “vast majority” of American Reform synagogues parted ways with their Boy Scout troops in line with its recommendation.
On Wednesday, the Reform commission issued a new memo saying that synagogues should feel free to re-affiliate with the Boy Scouts in light of the policy change.
“After considering the BSA [Boy Scouts of America] policy change, the response from advocates within the scouting community generally and in particular, Scouts for Equality as a leading voice within the gay scouting community, the Commission on Social Action has concluded that if a URJ Union for Reform Judaism] congregation wishes to re-establish ties with the BSA and host a fully inclusive and welcoming unit, it should do so,” the memo reads.
However, the memo contained strong reservations due to the fact that the Boy Scouts policy will continue to allow individual religious institutions that sponsor troops to refuse to hire LGBT employees. According to the commission, 71.5 percent of all troops are chartered to faith-based organizations.
“[W]e note with great concern the fact that some religiously chartered BSA units will continue to discriminate against gay leaders,” the memo reads. “We will continue to advocate for a fully inclusive and welcoming BSA for leaders and scouts who are gay and/or transgender, and we encourage those synagogues who elect to rejoin the BSA to participate whole-heartedly in this effort.”
The Boy Scouts of America, which was founded in 1910, did not allow openly gay youths to be Scouts until 2013. That policy went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, but the Reform Action Committee continued to oppose the Boy Scouts.
“We took very seriously the notion that gay youths in the scouting movement should be able to look at gay adults in the scouting movement and see themselves reflected in that person,” said Barbara Weinstein, director of the Reform committee.
The Reform movement is the largest denomination of Judaism in the United States, with 35 percent of American Jews counting themselves as members (although far fewer belong to Reform synagogues). The movement ordains openly gay men and women as rabbis. Reform rabbis also officiate at gay weddings.
“We respect the fact that other faith traditions abide by their own teachings, but we hope that the day will come that the Scouting movement is completely inclusive of gay scouts and leaders,” Weinstein said.
The Boy Scouts of America did not respond in time to comment for this article. National Jewish Committee on Scouting chairman Bruce Chudacoff was not contacted before the end of the business day by JTA.
Locally, CCJN editor Alan Smason has been chairman of the Jewish Committee on Scouting since the end of 2000, just prior to the implementation of the anti-Scouting policies. Other members of the local Jewish committee include attorney Peter Title and retiring Tulane University biomedical professor Cedric Walker. All three represent one specific branch of Judaism.