Scouting for Reasons

My one and only day with the Scouts began when a friend invited me to a meeting presided over by his mom, the den mother. Finger painting was our activity and before long, another kid and I were painting each other instead of the paper. As a result of this foolishness, I was asked to leave the Scouts and not come back. I figured my time was better spent honing my baseball skills anyway, enabling me to claim my destiny as the next great Yankee slugger in the line of Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle. I was sure that one day I'd join my heroes in the Hall of Fame. Later, seeing the Scouts camping with their dads and doing other neat stuff, I regretted not being in on the fun.

It never would have dawned on me to sue the Boy Scouts for having somehow discriminated against me. If they didn’t want a future Hall-of-Famer in their troop, well, that was their loss.

This came to mind last week as assaults on the Boy Scouts continued escalating ever since the Supreme Court ruled that Scouts can choose not to associate with homosexuals and may continue setting their own membership policies without interference from the government. Naturally, the decision brought howls of protest from the usual places.

At last month's Democratic National Convention, hundreds of brave souls waved signs and booed six Boy Scouts and one adult leader who participated in a ceremony on stage. Dozens of corporations including Sears, United Airlines, Proctor and Gamble, and Radio Shack have recently withdrawn financial support from the Scouts.

The government is also getting into the act. According to the New York Times, Chicago, San Francisco and San Jose no longer allow Scouts access to parks, schools, and municipal sites. The federal Department of the Interior began gathering information to determine whether its ties to the Boy Scouts violate President Clinton's executive order banning discrimination based on “sexual orientation.”

Earlier this week, a small group of House Democrats drafted legislation to repeal the Boy Scouts' federal charter and also asked Clinton to resign as honorary president of the organization.

The measure was defeated by a whopping 362-12 vote. But the homosexual lobby isnn't likely to give up that easily. You can bet more political pressure will soon be on its way. Boy Scouts pride themselves on being “always prepared,” but I'll bet their handbook didn't ready them for sneak attacks from their own government.

This fanatical response to the Boy Scouts' desire to set their own rules is a little mystifying. Frankly, I'm afraid it says more about the state of our country than it does about the Scouts.

The freedom to associate with whomever we please is as natural as breathing, so inherent as to go unnoticed — that is, until someone sues to challenge it. Not many would defend the right of the state to dictate who our friends should be, or with whom we can leave our kids, or what church or synagogue we may join. Yet all these activities involve choosing the folks we wish to socialize with — in other words, “discriminating” among people.

Similarly, organizations like the Boy Scouts are really nothing more than groups of people wishing to voluntarily associate together, agreeing on the qualifications and principles they expect their members to adhere to. If set too high or enforced too strictly, they may screen out members who might make great contributions to their organization (like budding Hall-of-Famers, for instance.)

When the government steps in, though, forcing people together against their will, the whole idea of “free association” — a prime element in civilized life — breaks down. Demanding to be included in the company of those that don’t want you around used to be called being rude. Nowadays, it’s considered a “civil right.”

The Boy Scouts have long believed that strong leaders and positive role models are vitally important to the healthy development of youth. In the Supreme Court brief filed by the Scouts, they addressed why Scouting has been so effective for 90 years: “Scouting's program for character development is effective precisely because it teaches through both precept and concrete examples of its adult leaders. Scoutmasters exist not only to espouse the ideals of Scouting, but more importantly to live and embody them; they are the role models of the Scouting movement.”

Thus, the Scouts have certain time-tested ideas about developing boys into morally virtuous men. That does not include having homosexual leaders. People may agree or disagree with them on this, but once the state's coercive power is used to settle the discussion by forcing the Scouts to change their membership policies, we’ve crossed the line from a free society into a totalitarian one.

But for some reason, Scouts are not tolerated by those forever demanding tolerance from others.

All the fuss this issue has kicked up actually boils down to a pretty simple principle: If you’re not free to choose with whom you associate, then you’re really not free.

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