The Boy Scouts and Discrimination

Imagine the Boys Scouts of America discriminated on the basis of race. In this hypothetical, no black parents are allowed to lead troops, and no black children are even allowed to join them. If your child were eligible, would you let him become a Boy Scout? My guess is that the answer would be no. There are plenty of alternative extracurricular activities available, including other scouting clubs, so why belong to a racist one whose policies stigmatize innocent children and perpetuate hostility towards a group based on a completely irrelevant characteristic? In fact, you might not want to support them in any way. The federal government certainly does not: groups that discriminate on the basis of race are ineligible for government funding and cannot qualify as a tax exempt organization. In short, no government money would flow to them, not even in the form of tax breaks. As an expressive association, the Boy Scouts might have a constitutional right to discriminate, but that doesn’t mean that our tax dollars should help them.

In recognition of National Coming Out Day on October 11, let’s tweak the hypothetical and substitute sexual orientation for race. Shouldn’t the results be the same?


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13 Responses

  1. AndyK says:

    No, for a variety of reasons. One, current cultural norms against prohibiting blacks to enter a group are ameliorative— they harken back to slavery and a “mea culpa” amongst whites. The idea is that “WE did slavery, WE should make recompense by accepting blacks into this group as a sort of award.” This is breaking down as we become more pluralist and the memories of slavery breaks down. Further, nowadays it seems less morally blameworthy to support your racial or ethnic group (see “Asian American” this or “Jewish” that— with a wink and a nod they accept outsiders), although of course this view still clings on in certain places.

    Second, if we’re talking strictly about biology, and I realize this is a bit of an imperialist argument to make, but if we are talking about biology, there is no reason to believe that accepting a person of a certain racial stock will necessarily affect the associational / educational milieu that the Boy Scouts desire. And they apparently think that certain behaviors WILL affect this milieu.

    Third, homosexuality is not seen in the law in the same way as race, subject to the same scrutiny. You can call this meaningless deference to legal tradition, but the authoritative declaration in Dale balanced the interests involved and noted that governmental usurpation of the expressive function of the Boy Scouts was not warranted here. The battle has already been fought, and our nation has settled the issue.

  2. Joe says:

    The scrutiny applied to homosexuality is in a state of flux, the Obama Administration pushing for heightened scrutiny, which is also the law in at least a few states (e.g., CA with a state amendment necessary to make a marriage exception) to my knowledge. Also, in various cases, sex discrimination is really what is at stake there, if not writ large.

    I don’t quite understand the ultimate point of AndyK’s first paragraph. Bottom line, some don’t want to send their children to an organization that discriminates (by sexual orientation and religion). The Girl Scouts manage w/o it. OTOH, some don’t want to send their children to inclusive scout clubs, thus alternatives for some evangelicals.

    I don’t know how “biologically” discriminating will affect the scouts mission either; again, the Girl Scouts manage to promote good citizenship etc. w/o such things.

    Circling about, the point is that society still is not as against the sort of discrimination present in the Boy Scouts. The idea that the President would be the honorary head of a group that would discriminate racially would be quite unlikely. Akin to a major party saying the federal government to “protect marriage” should deny benefits to interfaith or interracial marriages.

    The “issue” is not settled though. It is still being fought as shown by the same sex marriage debate. I think Dale is good law, but that doesn’t mean one should support the Boy Scouts & tax funding is another matter though where to draw the line there might be complicated.

  3. Brett Bellmore says:

    Black is appearance, like red hair or freckles. Essentially trivial, in other words. Homosexual is behavior, a fundamentally different category.

    The Scouts were deliberately founded as gender segregated organizations, to exclude any sexual tensions within the organization. Including homosexuals would fundamentally change the nature of the organization, in a way racial integration did not.

    IOW, it’s not at all the same.

  4. PrometheeFeu says:

    @Brett Bellmore:

    So how about if the Boy Scouts banned Jews? Being Jewish is clearly a behavior. You go some place, say certain things, eat certain things and not others.

  5. Joey says:

    Just FYI– The Boy Scouts do not merely ban “homosexual conduct,” as much as they like that particular turn of phrase; rather, they exclude anyone who admits to being gay. That is, they are excluding based on the identity category, not (only) the behavior.

    For instance, James Dale was kicked out of the scouts not because anybody accused him of having gay sex, but rather, because he was president of a group advocating acceptance of gay & lesbian people and he told a journalist that he was, in fact, gay.

    I strongly suspect that if given the choice, the boy scouts, like the pre-DADT-repeal military, would rather have an avowedly “straight” guy who has gay sex on rare occasions (and says that this is wrong) as compared to a guy who is completely celibate but who goes ahead and says that as a matter of identity, he’s gay.

    In other words, it’s not about behavior.

  6. Joe says:

    Well, #4, the Boy Scouts bans atheists. As my namesake notes, it isn’t about behavior alone. Orientation will do the job too. And, somehow, the Girl Scouts aren’t “fundamentally” changed by allowing lesbians, nor do Boy Scouts not manage as many other male focused organizations with gays present, just not as open about it as some other groups. The races were separated in the days past to deal with “tensions” including of a “sexual nature.” Now that sort of thing is seen as prejudiced. But, discriminating against gays (see marriage) is still not quite taboo yet.

  7. Joe says:

    BTW, according to Boy Scouts v. Dale, “sexual tensions” wasn’t the stated reason, but the idea that homosexuality is immoral. Sexual tension and privacy concerns repeatedly have a post hoc flavor as justifications for discrimination tend to in general in this context.

  8. AYY says:

    How do our tax dollars help them? As far as I know they don’t get federal funding. They might have a tax exemption, but that isn’t the same thing as having government money flow to them.

    Besides how is giving a tax exemption to the Boy Scouts any more problematical than giving a tax exemption to colleges like Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Wellesley, etc?

    Oh wait. I think I know the answer to that.

  9. Brett Bellmore says:

    “So how about if the Boy Scouts banned Jews? Being Jewish is clearly a behavior. You go some place, say certain things, eat certain things and not others.”

    Can the Knights of Columbus ban Jews? The Boy Scouts are an explicitly religious organization. They don’t ban Jews because they’re an ecumenical organization. Not because they’re not entitled to.

    Their reputation would suffer if they banned Jews, as it does not when they ban homosexuals, because disapproval of Judaism is unpopular. Disapproval of homosexuality is still majority opinion. (If you doubt this, just look at how same sex marriage ballot initiatives fare.)

    This argument has, I think, to do with the difference between “tolerance” and “approval”, and at what point demands for inclusion exceed what the first encompasses, and become demands for the latter. Inclusion in the Scouts, especially in leadership positions, falls into the second category, which nobody is entitled to.

  10. AndyK says:

    “Can the Knights of Columbus ban Jews? The Boy Scouts are an explicitly religious organization. They don’t ban Jews because they’re an ecumenical organization. Not because they’re not entitled to.”

    While I think it’s indisputable traditional churches have the free exercise right to exclude Jews, “Dale” doesn’t rely on the Free Exercise clause more than the “secular” clauses of the 1A. The Boy Scouts’ case relied upon the First Amendment penumbra dealing with secular free association—- free association antecedent to petition of grievance, speech, assembly, and free exercise.

    So while religious orgs may have an even STRONGER leg to stand on here, Dale didn’t rely on that.

  11. Caroline Mala Corbin says:

    Where does the public stand on LGBT rights?

    A quick look at polling data found that:
    80% favor (20% oppose) “protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation.”

    68% favor (22% oppose) allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

    54% favor (42% oppose) allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

  12. Joe says:

    PrometheeFeu didn’t actually ask if the Boy Scouts is legally able (“can”) to discriminate against Jews. PrometheeFeu noted religion is behavioral in response to treating homosexuality different on that ground. The OP made a moral case against something, Brett challenged it and PrometheeFeu pressed the argument. “Tolerance” and “approval” isn’t the point, is it? The OP is willing to “tolerate” (legally exist) the Boy Scouts. The argument is that we should do things to show we don’t “approve” it. Seems a bit of talking past each other.

  13. Shawn Boyne says:

    One of the most reprehensible actions by the Boy Scouts occurred recently when a troop leader found out that one of his troop members was gay. He refused to award the troup member Eagle Scout status and threw him out of the troop.