An Eagle Scout No Longer

Today I mailed a small package to the National Office of the Boy Scouts of America. In it is my Eagle Scout medal and letter of resignation from the rank that medal signifies, the highest rank one can achieve in scouting, the rank you keep for life. I cannot be an Eagle Scout now that the Supreme Court has affirmed that the BSA is anti-gay and that’s okay. I’m not gay myself but I respect all people of all classes. When I learn that an organization with which I am associated does not, I have no choice but to leave it, lest I be a hypocrite, lest I be their quiet accomplice.

I have always been extremely proud of my Eagle, a rank awarded to only a small percentage of scouts. To attain it I had to earn twenty-four merit badges, each not unlike a correspondence course where entirely on my own I studied and practiced some subject—citizenship, first aid, environmental science—then took a test to prove I had learned it. For my community service project I led a team of scouts in the restoration of an historic pump house on the C&O Canal. There were other requirements, all fulfilled by the age of sixteen. For many years I noted my Eagle on my resume. And whenever introduced to young scouts as an Eagle, the eyes of those boys never failed to beam in awe, making me swell in pride.

To win their Supreme Court case, the Boy Scouts argued that being forced to allow gay men such as James Dale as troop leaders would deny them their Constitutional right to free expression, or, more precisely, freedom of expressive association. And just which expression? That homosexuality is inconsistent with the scouting principles of being “morally straight” and “clean” as expressed in the Scout Oath and Law. To sway five of nine justices they had to be perfectly clear on this, leaving no room for doubt. This makes my decision rather easy. The Boy Scouts, in their letter accompanying my Eagle, say they know I will be guided in my daily living “by the Scout Oath and Law.” Now that I know what that means, I am compelled to disabuse them of that erroneous notion.

Am I really associated with the Boy Scouts? Moving trucks were unloading a Nixon White House when I first showed up at Troop 1092 in Bethesda, Maryland, and Jimmy Carter was at the midpoint of his Presidency when I made Eagle. I’ve not done much of anything with scouting in the meantime. But the rank of Eagle Scout is awarded for life. As an Eagle I am to represent for all my years the ideals, the values, the goodness of scouting. And there is plenty of goodness there—as I’m sure James Dale would agree. But I imagine there could be good things about clubs that exclude Jews or African-Americans, goodness subordinated by bigotry.

The BSA is anti-gay. I am not. As a Unitarian Universalist I hold dear the principle of respecting the dignity and worth of all people; it’s a bedrock belief at the very foundation of our religion. But you don’t have to be Unitarian to see the inherent wrong of excluding people based on sexual orientation, a characteristic of one’s private life as relevant in most matters as the color of our skin, our gender, or whether we use our left hand or right. I hope some day my children see the self-evidence of this basic principle of humanity. I have no option but to demonstrate it by my own expressive associations.