714LDS Ultimatum on Gay Scouts?
- Apr 26, 2000SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, Apriil 26, 2000
P. O. Box 867, Salt Lake City, UT, 84110
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( http://www.sltrib.com )
LDS Ultimatum on Gay Scouts?
BY MARK EDDINGTON, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
If the Boy Scouts of America is forced to accept gays as scoutmasters,
the LDS Church will withdraw from the organization and take more than
Scouts with it.
That's the contention of Salt Lake City attorney Von G. Keetch, who has
filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the Boy Scouts' ban on
homosexuals on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and
four other religious organizations.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today on a controversial 1999
New Jersey high court ruling that stated the Boy Scouts could not exclude
gays. The nation's justices are expected to rule on the matter in June.
Keetch, with the Salt Lake City firm of Kirton & McConkie, predicts dire
consequences if the Scouts lose the case.
"The Scouting movement as now constituted will cease to exist. . . . The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . would withdraw from
Scouting if it were compelled to accept openly homosexual Scout leaders,"
Keetch said in the Feb. 28 brief filed on behalf of the LDS Church, the
National Catholic Committee on Scouting, the General Commission on United
Methodist Men of the United Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri
Synod and the National Council of Young Israel.
The LDS Church is the single largest sponsor of Scouting units -- more
than 30,000 -- in the nation. That amounts to 400,000-plus Scouts. The
Methodist Church, with more than 424,000 Scouts, has the most youths
involved. The Catholic Church sponsors 355,000 Scouts.
In the brief, Keetch said no final decisions have been made, but all the
religious organizations could follow the Mormons' lead and bolt from
if the ban on gays is struck down.
LDS leaders would not comment Tuesday about the church's possible exodus
from Scouting. Boy Scouts of America national spokesman Greg Shields did not
want to speculate on the impact such a pullout would have on the movement,
which involves roughly 6.2 million youths and adults across the nation.
"We value the [Mormon] church and its contribution to Scouting and the
young people who participate in Scouting." he said. "The only thing I can
is that we will abide by the law."
A Utah Scout leader, however, did not hesitate to say what effect an LDS
exit would have on Scouting.
"The impact would be dramatic," said Ron Nyman, spokesman for the Utah
National Parks Council of the Boy Scouts that oversees 58,000 Scouts from
Utah County to the Arizona border. He said 98 percent of his council's
The LDS Church is closely connected to Scouting throughout Utah. The
church uses the program to help instill fundamental values in its male
members, ages 12 through 18. Scout leaders in Mormon congregations are
appointed by their bishops.
"The ramifications of losing this case should be the scariest thing that
could ever happen to private society," Nyman warned. "If they can do this to
Scouting, they can do it to churches and everything else."
The New Jersey ruling last August stemmed from a 1992 lawsuit filed
against the Boy Scouts by James Dale, who was expelled as the assistant
scoutmaster of a Middleton, N.J., troop in 1990 after it was learned that he
was involved in a gay student group at Rutgers University.
Boy Scouts exclude homosexuals from participation. Scout leaders
homosexuality is immoral and out of harmony with the group's values. They
further argue that they have a First Amendment right as a private
organization to choose their own leaders and who they will allow to
In siding with Dale, New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts are
a "place of public accommodation" and therefore are subject to that state's
laws barring discrimination against gays.
Evan Wolfson, Dale's attorney, said the U.S. Supreme Court has
consistently rejected the notion that the First Amendment gives groups the
right to discriminate.
"Boy Scouts do not come together to promote an anti-gay or
message," said Wolfson in a statement. "Scouts come together around the
traditions and values of Scouting, things James Dale always did and still
desires to uphold."
Michael McConnell, a University of Utah law professor who is helping New
York City attorney George Davidson argue the case for the Boy Scouts, said
the New Jersey ruling is ludicrous.
"The underlying question is if one group can have a message and serve a
subsection of the population without the government getting involved and
telling it how diverse it needs to be," McConnell said. "This is really
the survival of private groups as elements of society."
Kay Godfrey -- information officer with the Great Salt Lake Council,
which boasts 75,000 Scouts from Kaysville to Draper -- is confident the
Scouts will prevail.
He said homosexuality has not been much of an issue in Utah. He noted,
though, that there have been a few gay Scouts and Scout leaders booted from
the organization during his 10 years with the Great Salt Lake Council.
"We do not feel homosexuals are the kind of role models we want for our
youth," said Godfrey, who added that prospective leaders are usually not
asked about their sexual orientation.
For Andy Baggs -- a psychologist with the Nebo School District and
scoutmaster of Provo's Troop 999, which is not affiliated with the LDS
-- the issue is straightforward: Scouts pledge to be "morally straight" when
they raise their right arm to recite the Scout Oath.
"I don't see how one can define homosexuality as being morally
he said. "If you don't want to adhere to Scout standards, you shouldn't join
the club. You don't join the club and then try to change the standards."
But former Scout leader Wes Davey of Springville sees it another way.
"For us who are LDS, we've been taught to love the sinner but hate the
sin. If this teaching is true, then the LDS Church has a moral obligation to
accept celibate gay youth into its Scouting programs and a moral obligation
to petition the Boy Scouts to change its policy," he said. "Right now, the
church won't even let celibate gay youth participate. It shouldn't matter if
a youth is homosexual or heterosexual, as long as they are not engaging in
immoral behavior by having sex."