The Grand Old Partisan of Illinois

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The ACLU, the BSA, and inner city youth

The Sun Times has a story today about the most recent round in the legal prize-fight between the ACLU and the Boy Scouts of America. Now, let me preface my comments by saying: (1) I am an Eagle Scout who’s family has a long history of involvement in the program, (2) I am a former employee of the Boy Scouts of America, and (3) my personal opinion is that the national organization should, if nothing else, develop a don’t ask/don’t tell policy, similar to the military.

The most important of those prefaces is #2. After graduating from college, I worked for about a year and a half for the BSA, and served a district that was disproportionately inner city, minority, and poor. The program was dying in these communities, not because of lack of interest by the boys, their parents, or even community leaders, but because the public institutions that had traditionally kept it going feared legal action by the ACLU. What infuriated me the most about this was that while I was driving around these communities, trying to organize new programs and find new sponsors, I did not run into any viable competition, so to speak. Most of the local programs that the churches and schools tried to start and manage on their own continually failed because they didn’t have the guidance or support of a national organization to help train their volunteers or provide a structure for their program (and none of them had the proven, documented track record of success in keeping kids in school, out of gangs, and on the path to responsible and productice citizenship). And there were no other national organizations, venturing into those communities to help out. There was no ‘ACLU Scouts’ beating me to the punch and signing up kids in other programs and providing the needed alternative to gangs, drugs, and violence. It was just me and my colleagues, and the people whose partnership we needed to get the job done were unable to help because of ACLU threats.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with the BSA position on homosexuality or religious piety. But it is time for the critics of the BSA to, pardon the bluntness of the expression, put up or shut up. Until a viable, competitive alternative emerges to take its place, let the BSA do the work necessary to help keep the young boys of these communities out of gangs and away from drugs. I’d hate to reopen the can of worms on the gun ban, but let me just say this one thing: banning the guns as a cure to inner city violence is like banning zippo lighters as a cure to underage smoking. Will it help reduce the frequency of the problem? I’ll admit that perhaps it would. But the kids will find other ways to light up, or light each other up, as the case may be. We need to solve the real problems, not just treat the symptoms. Would the presence of a BSA supervised program in Englewood have prevented the recent, tragic shootings there? I don’t know for sure. But, to me, there is as much evidence to suggest that as there is to suggest the Governor’s assault weapons ban would have.

So I’d like to know where the Governor stands on allowing public institutions to sponsor, or even host, BSA programs. I know the State Police would love to sponsor Explorer posts again. So why not let them, Gov?

What are everyone else’s thoughts?

(And, please, be constructive here. Regardless of what the ACLU would have you believe, the BSA does not actively preach ANY homo-phobia. Check their Handbook, or any of their program materials....the subject is not even addressed. There are many professionals and adult volunteers in the program who don’t agree with those specific policy, but see the overall value in it anyway. Please be respectful of their decision, and do not make sweeping generalizations about the tolerance or open-mindedness of all associated with the organization. UPDATE: Any comments posted that contain such generalizations will be deleted.)