For close to a century, Scouting has planted the values of our founding fathers in the next generation of Boy Scouts, and the next generation of many U.S. leaders. Men like Astronaut James Lovell, Ross Perot, Michael Dukakis, Gerald Ford, James Stewart, William Bennett and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were all Eagle Scouts long before they were prominent, successful public figures.
And yet the organization that produced so many of our nation’s leaders — the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) — has been under cultural and legal attack for close to thirty years by a small but dedicated minority of secularists because the BSA has refused to bend to the winds of political correctness. And sadly, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have refined their tactics and begun to prevail in courts of law even as their actions are largely seen as appalling in the court of public opinion.
I wrote the book — On My Honor: Why American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For — for two main reasons: to espouse the virtues of a movement that has positively shaped the lives of millions of young men, and to expose the virus of secularism that endangers institutions that teach traditional values.
As the culture has increasingly told young people that “moral values are relative,” “if it feels good do it,” and “look out for number one,” it has elevated self as a false idol of worship, and defined our existence as a self-centric pursuit at the expense of serving a higher calling of living for causes greater than self. Scouting is a rare institution in today’s society because it teaches young men that there are causes greater than self, that there is value in hard work and sacrifice, that it is more important to do what is right instead of what is easy, and that there are obligations and responsibilities we share in a free society, such as: being good stewards of the outdoors and one another’s trust.
In fact, there are 12 positive attributes Scouting seeks to instill in young men, known as the Scout law: “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.”
Ignoring the enormous positive influence scouting has on our youth, the secularists on the left have aimed to shut the Boy Scouts down on three basic fronts: that BSA requires scouts and scout leaders to believe in God; that it limits adult scout leadership on the basis of sexuality, and; that it limits the participation in troops to boys. These secularists pursue radical agendas in the name of political correctness, standing up for atheists and militant homosexual groups who would attempt to shut Scouting down if they won’t change their membership standards.
While the courts have sided with the BSA on all three issues, it has come at great cost in legal fees. Furthermore, the secularists have refined their attacks and have begun to find success. Today many suits by the ACLU and their allies focus on public facilities used by Scout troops. Cities that used to offer free park space to Scout troops either charge them for its use or kick them off totally. The Department of Defense has been sued for making its facilities available. And in Philadelphia, the city bureaucracy said the Scouts would have to start paying fair market value for their headquarters because the property is city-owned — this despite the fact that the Scouts built the facility eighty years ago and gave it to the city for free!
The attack on Scouting is part of a larger cultural phenomenon. Secularists seek to drive people of faith from the public square and to sanitize the Pledge of Allegiance, our currency, our government buildings, and even the scouting oath from any mention of God. They also seek to open Scout troops to Scout leaders who are openly homosexual. While I agree with the right of individuals to choose their own sexual orientation, and share a “live and let live” view about homosexuality with millions of my fellow Americans, I also don’t believe parents enroll their sons in Scouts to get a lesson on human sexuality. They shouldn’t be subject to a debate about homosexuality in troop meetings anymore than they should the sexual exploits or proclivities of heterosexual scout leaders. Scouting isn’t about sex, period.
In waging a culture war, the secularists take a good cause — defending individual liberty — and ruin it by defending license. There is a difference between liberty and license: one is the application of freedom with respect for the responsibilities and boundaries of freedom, the other is the indulgence of self with no regard for the greater good of society.
Scouting teaches young men the responsibilities of freedom. It teaches them the traits of leadership. It instills courage and character. And it guides its subjects along the path to proper citizenship. I hope and pray, in telling the story of the Boy Scouts, I might bring greater awareness to the virtues of the Scouting movement, and the battle it must win in order to preserve its primacy in the lives of millions of young men.