Tag Archives: Mormon Church (LDS)

August 19, 1920 and the Politics of the Mormon Church

Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. . . . The paramount destiny and mission of women is to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.

— Justice Joseph P. Bradley, Bradwell v. State of Illinois 83 US 130: 141 (1872)

Zen stones

Men and women are equal.

Following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which extended suffrage to women on this date (19 August 1920), some believed that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to guarantee full rights for women in all aspects of life, from employment to education to divorce to property ownership. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution was originally written by Alice Paul in 1921 and first proposed in the United States Congress in December 1923. It was promoted by Paul and the National Women’s Party, but opposed by many of their colleagues who had worked to pass the Nineteenth Amendment. The ERA would have eliminated protective legislation which for years reformers had sought for female industrial workers. But Paul was determined that women should be treated as individuals under the law just as men were, not as a class subject to mass governmental regulation. The wording of the proposed ERA was simply:

Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Needless to say, the ERA was not ratified.

Many believed equality was already guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, a belief reinforced in 1963 by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, which concluded that an equal rights amendment was redundant because of provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. National polls, however, indicated that feminists believed in the necessity of an ERA.

In 1971, the ERA was reintroduced into Congress with the same language as Paul’s original document:

Sec. 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Sec. 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

It passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on 22 March 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, getting twenty-two of the necessary thirty-eight state ratifications in that first year. Most of these were states which had already resolved in favor of women’s rights by enacting equal protective labor legislation for men and women. But the pace slowed as opposition began to take its toll — only eight ratifications in 1973, three in 1974, one in 1975, and none in 1976. By 1976, 34 states had ratified the ERA; only four more were needed to make it part of the Constitution.

The attack against the ERA seemed, at times, alarmist and hysterical. Equation of the ERA with sexual permissiveness, abortion, child care, homosexuality, and unisexuality drew the debate away from the constitutional principal of equality to issues of “traditional family values.” But the attack did reflect the fears of many about the changing roles of women and men and about the changing form of the family. There seemed to be danger in equality for the ideological/cultural concept of the father as head and provider, mother as nurturer and manager, and children as replicas into the next generation. Many feared the equality would make women more vulnerable and exposed, that men would feel freer to abandon family responsibilities.

Then the Mormons got involved. The fears of anti-ERA opponents prompted the Mormon Church (male) leadership to join their financial resources, promotional skills, and broad network of members to the anti-ERA movement. In October 1976, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) issued a statement against the ERA, concerned it “could indeed bring [women] far more restraints and repressions. We fear it will even stifle many God-given feminine instincts.” This denunciation had a nearly immediate impact in Idaho, home to a relatively large Mormon electorate. The Idaho legislature had previously given the ERA the requisite two-thirds approval, but this was undone by a January 1977 referendum in which a popular majority opposed the amendment. In December 1976, the Church leadership urged all stake and mission presidencies to “to join others in efforts to defeat the ERA”, leading to LDS-coordinated efforts against the ERA in twenty-one states.

The LDS Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Next, the Church mobilized Mormons to participate in the state-level International Women’s Year (IWY) conferences taking place around the country. Mormon women in numerous states worked to block pro-ERA resolutions at IWY conferences. The process was top-down, and controlled by the Church’s leadership. In Utah, for example, fourteen thousand Mormons attended the conference, voting down every proposal in the meeting including anti-pornography measures and calls for world peace. In Hawaii, Mormon women received these written instructions: “Report to Traditional Values Van, sign in, pick up dissent forms. Sit together. Stay together to vote. Ask Presidency for help if needed.” At other state conferences, male Mormon coordinators staked out various rooms and informed their compatriots when a particular vote was pending; the Mormon women in attendance then rushed in to participate. This kind of discipline and cohesion allowed Mormon women to dominate conferences in states where their total numbers were quite small. For example, Mormons represented about four percent of the total populations of Washington and Montana, but accounted for half or more of the women attending each state’s IWY gathering. And in both Washington and Montana, every proposed pro-ERA resolution was defeated.

In typical grassroots fashion, ward bishops solicited donations to support the anti-ERA effort, speeches against the amendment were deemed appropriate at all Church meetings, and Church buildings were used as anti-ERA literature distribution centers. Church-sponsored anti-ERA organizations operated in Florida, Nevada, North and South Carolina, Missouri, Illinois and Arizona.

As the official voice of the Church, the Ensign published articles clarifying the Church’s position, speeches about ratification given by Church leaders in different locations, and official policy statements that left no room for misinterpretation. Bishops, stake presidents, teachers, and women read them in classes, and official press packets were distributed widely to local newspapers, television personalities, and other individuals in the media. The First Presidency reaffirmed its opposition to the ERA in a statement dated 24 August 1978 in which it said, “Its deceptively simple language deals with practically every aspect of American life, without considering the possible train of unnatural consequences which could result because of its very vagueness — encouragement of those who seek a unisex society, an increase in the practice of homosexual and lesbian activities, and other concepts which could alter the natural, God-given relationship of men and women.” In March 1980, the Church went all out with the publication of The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue.

Lists of pro-ERA legislators were posted in the hallways of meetinghouses, and even sample letters of opposition one might send to their legislators were posted as well. At Relief Society or Sunday School, petitions were circulated and delivered to state legislators. One petition read in part: “We consider the Equal Rights Amendment a nonpartisan issue and will, in the 1979 elections, vote only for those candidates who oppose ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.” Here, too, the Mormons’ limited numbers belied their ultimate effect: by one estimate, they generated 85 percent of the anti-ERA mail sent in Virginia, where they made up only one percent of the population.

An article by Jessica Longaker entitled, “Mormon Family Values and the Role of Women in LDS,” might help explain why the Mormon Church entered politics to defeat the ERA:

Polygamous marriage is basically essential to Mormon theology. Mormon Doctrine states that God was once a human man, and “He is now a glorified, resurrected Personage having a tangible body of flesh and bones”. As a matter of fact, “all gods first existed as spirits, came to an earth to receive bodies, and then, after having passed through a period of probation on the aforesaid earth, were advanced to the exalted position they now enjoy”. After death, a good Mormon man who has followed a few certain rules is catapulted to this same status and receives his own planet to populate and rule over. To receive this honor, a man must be “married for eternity” in the Mormon temple. This special marriage is binding after death as well as until it.

“Celestial” marriage, as this eternal marriage is often called, is essential for Mormon women. Without being celestially married to a holder of the priesthood, a woman cannot be “saved”. Mary Ettie Smith, a Mormon woman who left the church and Utah in 1856, said that “women do not amount to much in themselves,” and that women in those times were often celestially married to men they had no intention of ever living with, so that they could have a man who would be able to get them into heaven.

(. . .)

Girls and boys are also told that a good and proper Mormon home is a patriarchal one. A handbook written for fourteen year old boys states that, “The patriarchal order is of divine origin and will continue throughout time and eternity”. Husbands conduct family prayers, bless their wives and children, and generally control the household. They also are in charge of “family home evening”, one night per week set aside for family prayer and togetherness. The Mormon belief is that Eve’s roles in life, those of help-meet and child-bearer, set the pattern for all of her daughters. Girls are told that God wants them at home, and boys are never taught to clean up after themselves, since when their mothers stop doing it for them, their wives will take over the job. These ideas, at least, have not changed at all since the nineteenth century.

(. . .)

The Mormon church of today is still clinging to the beliefs of the nineteenth century; ideas which are becoming more outmoded every day. A few women in the Mormon church are trying to make a difference, but they are usually swiftly excommunicated. . . . Feminists are described as “the Pied Pipers of sin who have led women away from the divine role of womanhood down the pathway of error”. Obviously, the Mormon church is not going to alter its views on women in the immediate future. It is questionable whether it is even possible for Mormonism to equalize the roles of men and women, because the oppression of women is so integral to the religion. Men and women cannot truly become equal in the church, for the basic tenets of Mormonism are so fraught with sexism that equality would change the religion beyond recognition.

Some Mormons favored the ERA. Most notably, Sonia Johnson emerged as a pro-ERA Mormon leader, co-founding Mormons for ERA in 1977. She testified in 1978 in support of the ERA before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, upsetting Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch. Testifying again in August 1979 before the Subcommittee, she asked Hatch how the Church’s statement against the ERA could discuss the “exalted role of woman in our society” while leaving women in a secondary status “where equality does not even pertain. . . . One wonders if the leaders of the church would gladly exchange their sex and become so exalted.” In September 1979, she further raised concerns of Church leaders when she spoke to the American Psychological Association on “Patriarchal Panic: Sexual Politics in the Mormon Church“. The key paragraph of the speech centered on her cause:

But women are not fools. The very violence with which the [Mormon] brethren attacked an amendment which would give women human status in the Constitution abruptly opened the eyes of thousands of us to the true source of our danger and our anger. This open patriarchal panic against our human rights raised consciousness miraculously all over the church as nothing else could have done. And revealing their raw panic at the idea that women might step forward as goddesses-in-the-making with power in a real — not a “sub” or “through men” — sense was the leaders’ critical and mortal error, producing as it did a deafening dissonance between their rhetoric of love and their oppressive, unloving, destructive behavior.

Sonia Johnson

It was in this speech that Johnson crossed the line between equal civil rights and the patriarchal system of the Mormon Church, a border also blurred by the Church by identifying the ERA as a moral issue upon which the Church could take political action (in harmony with the 29 June 1979 statement of the First Presidency which explained that moral issues, so identified by the First Presidency and Council of Twelve, may be “worthy of full institutional involvement”). Later in the “Patriarchal Panic” speech, Johnson said:

The Mormons, a tiny minority, are dedicated to imposing the Prophet’s moral directives upon all Americans, and they may succeed if Americans do not become aware of their methods and goals. Because the organization of the church is marvelously tight, and the obedience of the members marvelously thoroughgoing, potentially thousands of people can be mobilized in a very short time to do–conscientiously–whatever they are told, without more explanation than “the Prophet has spoken.”

But Mormon anti-ERA activity, though organized and directed through the hierarchy of the church from Salt Lake down through regional and local male leaders, is covert activity not openly done in the name of the church. Members are cautioned not to reveal that they are Mormons or organized by the church when they lobby, write letters, donate money, and pass out anti-ERA brochures door to door through whole states. Instead, they are directed to say they are concerned citizens following the dictates of their individual consciences. Since they are, in fact, following the very dictates of the Prophet’s conscience and would revise their own overnight if he were to revise his, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Mormon church began disciplinary proceedings against Sonia Johnson after she delivered the above speech. She was excommunicated from the LDS Church, after a perfunctory Church trial, a little over three months later. It was not her pro-ERA beliefs that caused her conflict with the LDS Church but her opposition to its political activities in relation to the ERA.

While it might be going too far to say that the Mormon Church killed the ERA, it certainly put the amendment on life support. True, Mormons made common cause with conservative Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists in their battle against the ERA, a collaboration that paved the way for the political sector now broadly known as the religious right. But without the Mormon Church’s timely intervention and efficient opposition, the amendment probably would have passed. In any case, it is clear that the network of LDS wards and stakes coalesced into a tax-subsidized political machine, energetically fund-raising and mobilizing campaign volunteers to influence public policy.

Suggested Reading:

  • Sonia Johnson, From Housewife to Heretic: One Woman’s Struggle for Equal Rights and Her Excommunication from the Mormon Church (Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983).
  • Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1992).
  • Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
  • Martha Sonntag Bradley, Pedestals and Podiums: Utah Women, Religious Authority, and Equal Rights (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2005)

February 8, 1910 (a Tuesday)

On this date, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was incorporated by Chicago publisher William Boyce.

Mormon Scouts from Provo, Utah learning outdoor cooking (1916).

The BSA stands alone among Boy Scout organizations around the world, and among other youth-serving organizations including the Girl Scouts, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, in barring homosexuals. More than any other factor, the close relationship between the BSA and religious organizations like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) — the Mormons — explains why the BSA pursued its antigay policy all the way to the Supreme Court.

Imported from England just after the turn of the twentieth century, the fledgling Boy Scout movement found quick friends in the YMCA, largely because William Boyce, a BSA founder, and Edgar M. Robinson, the YMCA’s first international secretary for boys’ work, were acquaintances, according to David Peavy, a former member of the National Catholic Church Committee on Scouting. Some YMCA clubs hosted Scout troops, and Peavy describes Robinson as essentially the Scouts’ first chief executive.

The BSA eventually broke out on its own after receiving a Congressional charter in 1910. Modeled on the Scouting movement launched in England by war hero Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the American version differed in one key area: its more formal connection to religious practice. Baden-Powell had built British Scouting on religious principles, but the BSA added an 11th element to the Scout Law: “A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful to his religious duties.” In case anyone missed that “go to church” message, the BSA constitution said, “No boy can grow into the best kind of citizenship without recognizing his obligation to God.” And the BSA borrowed from the three-tiered focus on “mind, body, and spirit” in the YMCA’s mission statement, Peavy says, when it developed its Oath:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help others at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake and morally straight.

Consequently, Catholic and Protestant churches and the Mormon Church found Scouting to be a perfect fit: the boys loved it, it had Christian underpinnings, and the BSA encouraged churches to mold their local Scouting programs according to their own religious-education standards. The Mormon Church, in an amicus curiae brief filed with a Boy Scouts case before the US Supreme Court in 2000 (Boy Scouts of America et al v Dale) put it best:

Because of Scouting’s devotion to the spiritual element of character education and its willingness to submerge itself in the religious traditions of its sponsors, America’s churches and synagogues enthusiastically embraced Scouting. . . .

For many religious organizations . . . the Scouting program is a means of youth ministry. At the same time, sponsorship by religious organizations has enabled the Scouting movement to expand and increase its influence on the nation’s boys.

By 1915, 4,000 of the nation’s 7,373 Scout units were chartered to Protestant churches, according to an analysis by the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy. By then the BSA also had a “Commissioner for Scout Work in the Catholic Churches,” whose job was to promote Catholic units. In 1918, Peavy says, a letter from the Vatican bestowed the blessing of Pope Benedict XV on Catholic Scouting.

Mormon BSA patch.

But no group embraced Scouting more enthusiastically than the Mormon Church. On 21 May 1913, the Church became the first institution to be officially affiliated with the BSA program. Over the years, Scouting became the official youth-ministry program for Mormon boys. It serves not only for inculcating the beliefs of the Church, but as an outreach tool. Elder Robert Backman was recognized by the BSA in 1986 for his efforts in incorporating Scouting into the Mormon Church’s Young Men organization. He is quoted in the Aaronic Priesthood Boy Scout Guide:

As you know, we are vitally concerned about our youth and feel that with the proper attention we can save many more than we are doing at the present time. I am convinced that Scouting is a mighty activity arm to hold these boys close while they learn to appreciate the honor of holding the priesthood of God.

(. . .)

If we do all else and lose the young man, we have failed in our sacred stewardship. We must not allow a separation of priesthood, Scouting, or athletics.

(. . .)

Every phase of the Scouting program should help young men and their leaders understand that Scouting activities are carried out to accomplish priesthood purposes.

Apostle Thomas S. Monson said in a 1990 Mormon newsletter that the Church and its troops “serve together; they work together.” He added, “Every program I’ve seen from Scouting complements the objectives we are attempting to achieve in the lives of our young men, helping them strive for exaltation.” [Exaltation is the official expression in Mormon theology for a Saint becoming a god in the afterlife.]

The statement that the BSA does “not believe that homosexuality and leadership in Scouting are appropriate” first appeared in a letter in 1978 signed by the BSA’s President and Chief Scout Executive. However, it was an internal memorandum, never circulated beyond the few members of BSA’s Executive Committee, and remained, in effect, a secret Boy Scouts policy. Nevertheless, the organization later asserted that it was not a new policy to oppose and disfavor homosexuality — and, in support of that, to deny leadership roles to and occasionally expel “avowed” homosexuals. Rather, the BSA argued it was just enforcing long-held policy which had never been published or publicly challenged.

James Dale was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout — an honor given to only 3 percent of all scouts — after eleven years of Scouting. When he was a student at Rutgers University, Dale became copresident of the Lesbian/Gay Student Alliance. Then, in July 1990, he attended a seminar on the health needs of lesbian and gay teenagers. During the seminar, he was interviewed, and the work was subsequently published. James, who was an assistant Scoutmaster and looked forward to a lifetime in Scouting, was expelled after BSA officials read the interview in a local newspaper and Dale was quoted as stating he was gay. Never before hearing of any such rule against gays, Dale sued for reinstatement, charging BSA with violating New Jersey state civil rights laws which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Interestingly, the BSA subsequently issued a Position Statement on Homosexuality in June, 1991 that states:

We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirements in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts. Because of these beliefs, the Boy Scouts of America does not accept homosexuals as members or as leaders, whether in volunteer or professional capacities.

Dale’s case was first tried before Superior Court Judge Patrick J. McGann, who ruled against Dale, stating:

To suggest that the BSA had no policy against active homosexuality is nonsense. It was an organization which from its inception had a God-acknowledged, moral foundation. It required its members, youth and adult, to take the Scout Oath that they would be “morally straight.” It is unthinkable that in a society where there was universal governmental condemnation of the act of sodomy as a crime, that the BSA could or would tolerate active homosexuality if discovered in any of its members. . . . Men who do those criminal and immoral acts cannot be held out as role models. [Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, No. Mon-C-330-92]

Although McGann’s account of the BSA attitude toward homosexuals may be true, his interpretation of the “morally straight” clause in the Scout Oath as meaning heterosexual is certainly not. As mentioned earlier, the last clause of the BSA Scout Oath had its origin in the YMCA. [Ironically, the YMCA does not ban gays.] As historian Carolyn Wagner states:

The YMCA men in the Scouts gave the organization a distinctly Protestant orientation. In the rewrite of the Scout promise, they successfully lobbied for the inclusion of a line requiring the boy to be “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” This line spoke to the significance of the Y’s emblem, a triangle representing spirit, mind, and body which, in turn, referred to the organization’s goal of furthering “all round development.” The Y men thought it particularly important that the BSA incorporate this line in the promise because they regarded Christ as the perfectly developed man and, therefore the ideal role model for youth, ALL youth.

Including even an indirect reference to Christ, when the BSA is supposed to be a “non-sectarian” youth organization, is problematical. “Non-sectarian organizations” as a rule do not involve themselves in theology. BSA claims that theology and religious instruction is to be left up to the parents and religious leaders of the boy — be his religious faith Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, etc. — not BSA.

A Scout demonstration, 1916, in the Deseret Gymnasium, Salt Lake City.

Furthermore, the historian George Chauncey notes that it was only in the 1910’s and 1920’s that the application of the term straight to a man who was considered — using the relatively new term — heterosexual, was first beginning to be used. However, Chauncey notes that the use of the term straight was a slang term and only used within the gay subculture. It’s first appearance in mainstream publications was in the glossary of a 1941 book on “sex deviants.” According to historian Jonathan Katz, this book identified the term straight as “being employed by homosexuals ‘as meaning not homosexual. To go straight is to cease homosexual practices and to indulge — usually to re-indulge — in heterosexuality.'” The definition of the term straight, meaning heterosexual, in society at large, did not occur until much later.

Eventually, Boy Scouts of America et al v Dale (530 US 640) was argued before the US Supreme Court. On 28 June 2000, a divided Court ruled that the First Amendment protects the BSA, as an “expressive organization” promoting the view that homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle, from excluding Scouts on that basis. Therefore, the organization has the authority to expel a gay assistant Scoutmaster. However, views with respect to homosexuality must be central to the BSA’s expressive purposes. Four Justices dissented, questioning whether admitting homosexual members, in the words of the BSA, “would be at odds with its own shared goals and values”:

BSA describes itself [in its own mission statement] as having a “representative membership,” which it defines as “boy membership [that] reflects proportionately the characteristics of the boy population of its service area.” . . . In particular, the group emphasizes that “[n]either the charter nor the bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America permits the exclusion of any boy. . . . To meet these responsibilities we have made a commitment that our membership shall be representative of all the population in every community, district, and council.” . . . (emphasis in original).

(. . .)

It is plain as the light of day that neither one of these principles — “morally straight” and “clean” — says the slightest thing about homosexuality. Indeed, neither term in the Boy Scouts’ Law and Oath expresses any position whatsoever on sexual matters.

(. . .)

BSA’s published guidance on that topic underscores this point. Scouts, for example, are directed to receive their sex education at home or in school, but not from the organization: “Your parents or guardian or a sex education teacher should give you the facts about sex that you must know.”

(. . .)

More specifically, BSA has set forth a number of rules for Scoutmasters when these types of issues come up:

(. . .)

“Rule number 1: You do not undertake to instruct Scouts, in any formalized manner, in the subject of sex and family life. The reasons are that it is not construed to be Scouting’s proper area, and that you are probably not well qualified to do this.” [emphasis in original]

(. . .)

Insofar as religious matters are concerned, BSA’s bylaws state that it is “absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward . . . religious training.” [and] “The BSA does not define what constitutes duty to God or the practice of religion. This is the responsibility of parents and religious leaders.” . . . BSA surely is aware that some religions do not teach that homosexuality is wrong.

After thoroughly examining the 1978, 1991, 1992, and 1993 written BSA policy statements regarding homosexuality, the dissenting Justices continued:

It speaks volumes about the credibility of BSA’s claim to a shared goal that homosexuality is incompatible with Scouting that since at least 1984 it had been aware of this issue — indeed, concerned enough to twice file amicus briefs before this Court—yet it did nothing in the intervening six years (or even in the years after Dale’s expulsion) to explain clearly and openly why the presence of homosexuals would affect its expressive activities, or to make the view of “morally straight” and “clean” taken in its 1991 and 1992 policies a part of the values actually instilled in Scouts through the Handbook, lessons, or otherwise.

(. . .)

In fact, until today, we have never once found a claimed right to associate in the selection of members to prevail in the face of a State’s antidiscrimination law. To the contrary, we have squarely held that a State’s antidiscrimination law does not violate a group’s right to associate simply because the law conflicts with that group’s exclusionary membership policy.

(. . .)

The evidence before this Court makes it exceptionally clear that BSA has, at most, simply adopted an exclusionary membership policy and has no shared goal of disapproving of homosexuality.

(. . .)

As noted earlier, nothing in our [previous] cases suggests that a group can prevail on a right to expressive association if it, effectively, speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

Emboldened by this Supreme Court decision, the National Executive Board of the BSA passed a formal resolution on 6 February 2002 that expressly excluded atheists and homosexuals from membership. Furthermore, the Executive Board resolved that all Councils and sponsoring organizations must sign a statement to the effect that they will enforce all policies of the BSA including the exclusion of homosexuals and atheists as members. All those applying for membership must also agree to abide by these policies.

The reason for the condemnation of homosexuality by the BSA, unusual among similar organizations in the United States, is clearly the close association between the BSA and certain religious constituencies, especially the Mormons and Catholics, as indicated in an amicus curiae filed by them in the Dale case. It begins:

Among all of Scouting’s supporters, there are none more important to Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”) than amici. The organizations joining in this brief are by far the largest religious sponsors of Scouting in America. Religious institutions charter over 60% of all Scouting units in the United States. Of these, a full two-thirds are chartered by amici. Nationally, amici sponsor over 50,000 Scouting units and almost 1.2 million scouts, with over 20,000 scouts in New Jersey alone.

For many decades amici have employed Scouting as a tool of religious ministry, making Scouting an integral part of their youth programs. The right of BSA and its sponsoring organizations to determine eligibility requirements for scout leaders is therefore of paramount importance, directly impacting the ability of these amici to organize and control their Scouting programs.

(. . .)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors over 400,000 scouts and over 30,000 Scouting units nationwide, making it the largest single sponsor of Scouting units in the United States. In New Jersey, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsors over 700 scouts and about 60 units.

After the above chest-thumping, under a section of the brief entitled “Coercing Boy Scouts of America to Install Openly Homosexual Scout Leaders Violates the First Amendment”, the Mormons state:

[Ruling against the BSA] threatens to fracture the Scouting Movement, destroying or at least severely diminishing BSA’s ability to advocate and inculcate its values. If the appointment of scout leaders cannot be limited to those who live and affirm the sexual standards of BSA and its religious sponsors, the Scouting Movement as now constituted will cease to exist. Amicus The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the largest single sponsor of Scouting units in the United States — would withdraw from Scouting if it were compelled to accept openly homosexual scout leaders. The other amici would be forced to reevaluate their sponsorship of Scouting, with the serious possibility of reaching the same conclusion.

(. . .)

Given the extent of their support, losing any of these amici as sponsors, whether in New Jersey or nationwide, would seriously disrupt BSA’s ability to express and inculcate its message. The destruction or dismemberment of an expressive organization is perhaps the ultimate abridgment of the right of expressive association.

The Mormon threat in their brief is obviously coercive and also hypocritical — who, in fact, is coercing the BSA, the government or the Mormons? Also, the brief is deceptive because the chartering organization is (as it always has been) the one responsible to recruit and select their adult leaders — not BSA. Traditionally, if a Scouting unit in New Jersey decided to accept gay scouts, that would not compel a Mormon unit to do likewise. This tradition allows religiously-sponsored units to apply standards for membership and leadership appropriate to their own sect. What the Mormons want to do (and the BSA leadership is cooperating) is force Mormon standards for scouts and leaders on ALL other units nationwide.

After the Dale decision, public opinion in some communities turned against the BSA; corporations, charities, and even some local governments criticized the policy, threatening to either cut off financial support or block the Boy Scouts from using public buildings for their meetings. Going even further, the Secular Coalition for America has urged Congress to revoke the federal charter of the BSA, stating: “Our government must not entangle itself in religious organizations; nor should it establish, with government imprimatur, a private religious club.” Of course, while some segments of the public criticized the organization, other groups became more enthusiastic in their support of the Scouts.

Cub Scouts

Ironically, the BSA national leadership in the not-too-distant future will have to confront the fact that they are engaging in child abuse by following a policy of rejecting youth who identify as gay. The existence of BSA’s overt discrimination against gays sends the message to both youth and adults that it is okay to judge, ridicule, and hate another person — simply because they’re different. In the August 2001 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers found boys with same-sex orientation were linked to a 68 percent greater likelihood of having suicidal thoughts than their opposite-sex oriented classmates. This study confirmed a Department of Health and Human Services Study (1989) which concluded that gay youth are often more likely to attempt suicide than others of their same age group. (See also Remafedi et al, 1998; Silenzio et al, 2007; Ryan et al, 2009.) Such suicidal tendencies do not reflect a pathology due to sexual orientation — rather, they result from societal stigmatization and oppression of those who are, or are perceived to be, homosexual.

Since its earliest days, the BSA has sought to maintain strong ties to church and state. However, in the United States legal system, these entities are largely kept separate, and for good historical reasons. Unfortunately, the BSA may not be able to cater to both much longer without inevitably running afoul of one or the other.

Suggested Reading: