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Monday, November 8, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boy Scouts Are Prepared To Discriminate On A Whim

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

"WE are the boys that fear no noise

Where the thundering canons roar."

- Oliver Goldsmith, "She Stoops to Conquer"

If you want to know where we would be without principle and morality, don't look to the Girl Scouts. Look to the Boy Scouts.

A report in late October discloses that Girl Scouts will no longer be required to pledge service to God. At the organization's national convention in Minneapolis it was agreed, by a vote of 1,560 to 375, that effective immediately Girl Scouts will be allowed to pledge service to "God," "Allah," "the Creator," or to anyone else they please.

The group's leaders said the change acknowledges growing religious and ethnic diversity among the nation's 2.6 million Girl Scouts. According to the national president of the organization, B. LaRae Orullian, "The important thing is that the spiritual principles which continue to be the fundamental of Girl Scouting recognize that there are some religious groups . . . that believe in a spiritual motivating force, but use words other than `God."'

Boy Scouts, it would appear, are less open to diverse views, thus proving that Boy Scouts are a lot different from Girl Scouts and not just in the obvious ways. They avoid having to contend with religious diversity by keeping at least some of the diverse out.

The Boy Scout oath compels scouts to "do my best . . . to God and my country." In addition, members pledge to remain "morally straight." Just as Girl Scout officials are explaining why it is important to acknowledge that some people recognize deities other than the Christian God, Boy Scout officials are bringing lawsuits aimed at keeping out atheists.

Mark Welsh is a 10-year-old Chicago boy who wanted to become a Boy Scout. He was the right sex to join that organization (not being a girl) and he was not gay. He should have been admitted without a fuss. He was not. That is because Mark Welsh, aged 10, was an avowed atheist.

The Boy Scout hierarchy feared the effects a 10-year-old atheist might have on 12- and 13-year-olds. They refused him admission. He sued for admission. The district court judge issued a ruling keeping him out. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling.

In a 2-to-1 decision, Mark was told that his admission to the Boy Scouts would "run the risk of undermining one of the seedbeds of virtue that cultivate the sorts of citizens our nation so desperately needs." Heady stuff for a 10-year-old but disappointing nonetheless.

In a dissent, Judge Walter Cummings said the court's ruling was so broad that it would entitle the scouts to discriminate against any one at all on a sheer whim. The judge thought that was bad. Little did he realize that that is exactly what makes Boy Scouts the organization it is today.

Atheists are not the only perceived-to-be-different boys the scouts eschew. Gays are another. That, according to officials, is because gays make poor role models. Scouting families, the leaders tell us, are overwhelmingly opposed to allowing gays to become either troop leaders or scouts.

Thanks to the obvious fondness for, and adherence to, strict rules governing admission, an observer might be inclined to assume that the Boy Scouts of America lead a more institutionally trouble-free life than the Girl Scouts. Anyone so inclined should lean a different direction. The seedbeds of virtue to which the learned judges in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals referred have not born the expected fruit.

According to a report in the New York Times, in 1991 the Boy Scouts paid $3.75 million to families whose children had been molested by scout leaders. The paper reported recently that over the last 20 years, 1,800 scoutmasters have been removed because they were suspected of molesting boys. In a number of cases individuals who were suspected of such activities were removed from their posts only to reappear in different posts some time later.

It is good to know that the Boy Scouts are strictly enforcing moral codes. Only someone untutored in the ways of the world would hazard a guess as to how it would be if tolerance instead of bigotry were part of the Boy Scout's creed.

Perhaps the Boy Scouts will learn something from the distaff side. On the other hand, perhaps they won't.

Christopher Brauchli, a lawyer, is a columnist for the Daily Camera of Boulder, Colo.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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