The Penalty for Being a Boy Scout

To be a Boy Scout in the twenty-first century entails some consequences. It means that you may not get funding from the United Way. It means that you cannot have summer camp in a city park (as a federal judge has told the Scouts in San Diego). It means that your troop cannot be sponsored by a public school (lest your school be sued by the ACLU). It means that you will get booed at a national political convention (the party starts with the letter D). It means that you will be compared with the Taliban, which the Philadelphia Daily News did a few years ago.

There in Philadelphia, as of last week, being a Boy Scout means a $199,999 rent increase on your headquarters building, following a decision by the City of Philadelphia to penalize the Scouts for its longtime policy excluding homosexual members and leaders.

In 1928, the city granted a $1 per year lease to the Boy Scouts for a headquarters building at the corner of 22nd and Winter Street. The terms of the agreement were "in perpetuity." But in June, the Philadelphia City Council voted 16-1 to cancel the agreement.

Now, the Boy Scouts in Philadelphia will have to make tough decisions in order to come up with $200,000 in annual rent payments. In a Scouting council that has lost funding from Pew Charitable Trusts and the United Way over the same political correctness issues that brought the city council to its decision, raising money for rent will be a challenge. Most likely, it means cutbacks on after-school programs and troop support.

At first glance, this looks like a problem for the Boy Scouts. It certainly is, but it is a bigger problem for Philadelphia. That’s because the city needs private partners in order to make the community livable. City leaders have recognized the importance of working with private groups in recent years, joining with houses of worship for welfare-to-work support and teaming with the Amachi Program to identify volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring. Members of local churches and synagogues volunteer in Philadelphia’s schools for campus safety and mentoring. President Bush recognized Mayor John Street in his 2001 State of the Union Address as a champion of faith-based initiatives.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia is cutting off one of its most valuable partners, the Boy Scouts. Regardless of how one stands on the Boy Scouts’ policy about homosexuals, there is no question that they benefit America’s communities. And the Scouts’ membership requirements are none of the city’s business. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts have the right to establish its own membership standards. Civil libertarians in the ACLU argue that the Scouts may have such a right, but don’t force the public to support their policies. Well, in a public private partnership between the Boy Scouts and the City of Philadelphia, no one is forced to accept the Boy Scouts’ policies. What the public must accept in such a partnership is the thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours that come forth each year, the countless "good turns" that make Philadelphia a better place to live.

All Scouts, regardless of where they come from or where they are going, have one thing in common: they adhere to the Scout Oath. It says, "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 other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

That is the statement that upsets the City of Philadelphia so much. That is also the statement that has inspired millions of young men for nearly 100 years to live lives of service, leadership, and honor.

But there are consequences for choosing honor these days. Being a Boy Scout is not as publicly admirable as it was fifty years ago. That shouldn’t stop free people from doing the right thing. We can reverse the sting of political correctness by supporting the Boy Scouts in our own communities. Each of us can get involved, as parents, supporters, Scoutmasters. Each of us can stand with the Boy Scouts and give them the honor they deserve.