The Greater Worcester Humanists Take on the Boy Scouts of America

While the debate rages on regarding the Boy Scouts of America’s discriminatory membership policy–which denies membership to atheists and the LGBT community–the public has heard from countless organizational leaders representing atheists, LGBT rights advocates and even many religious communities about the injustice of the policy.

For their part, the BSA’s national leaders have made their support for the discriminatory policy clear, while some former scouts have taken it upon themselves to speak out both in favor and against the policy. There is one tier within the Boys Scouts hierarchy, however, which has remained notably silent: local BSA groups.

Many local BSA leaders have yet to make their positions public. Privately, they tell members and potential donors that they reject the national policy of discrimination that’s been put in place above their heads, but according to the national standards, local troops are in practice compelled to comply.

This double talk and hands-off attitude allows the BSA to maintain support for local divisions all over the country while keeping unpopular policies in place. If the BSA is fighting so hard for their “right” to discriminate, then someone somewhere must be making use of it, but the local groups aren’t owning up.

However, one American Humanist Association chapter, the Greater Worcester Humanists, has had enough and is urging local BSA leaders to speak up in response to questions that have long gone unanswered. Their argument: the Boy Scouts cannot be allowed to continue trying to get support from people on both sides of the issue and the public deserves to know exactly where the local BSA groups stand.

Three Massachusetts BSA leaders were publicly contacted: Matthew Conlon and Jay Garee from the Mohegan Council, and Gerald Bieler from the Nashua Valley Council.

Of the three emails sent by the GWH to local leaders, not a single one was answered–which suggests that they have a lot to work out within their organizations.

American Humanist Association chapters and affiliates all over the country are encouraged to make an issue of the contradictions within their own local BSA groups and keep the pressure on local officials to answer publicly. With enough outcry, BSA leaders will be forced to break their silence and issue a response.

And if people consistently reject any contradiction and demand clarification, every possible outcome is better than the current situation.

The most desirable result of course would be that the local leaders stand up to the national figureheads as a demonstration that their policies need to change to meet both internal and external demands. If their stance causes further uproar, it would finally be in the BSA’s best interest to change their policy.

However, the BSA higher-ups might still refuse to change. David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association and of the Greater Worcester Humanists, suggests that, if after publicly speaking out against the policy of discrimination without change within the national BSA, local leaders could break off and create an all-inclusive BSA alternative. If they did so, they would surely gain wide support from the public.

And even if the local leaders do concede and begin openly discriminating, at the very least the American people would breathe easier knowing where the BSA stands and they could take it upon themselves to boycott a shamelessly hypocritical and discriminatory organization. This would certainly change the BSA’s reputation and, rather than being tricked and deceived, people could make informed decisions. The result over time would be a nation-wide loss of support for the BSA.

It should be made clear, however, that this is not an attack on the local council leaders. They are the ones who work so hard, often as volunteers, to help local children grow into respectful and capable adults. The Telegram & Gazette quoted GWH spokesman Christopher Lackey as saying, “It’s our understanding that the local councils are run by decent people who want to do the right thing and it’s a shame that the national BSA casts a cloud of intolerance over scouting.”

We can only hope that these decent people will speak up and that improvements can be made so that boys of all creeds, orientations and varying capabilities can choose to participate in an organization like the scouts.