My reflections and musings on the struggle to leave a Christ-shaped impression on the world of law and public policy.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Can the Boy Scouts Yet Remain "Morally Straight"? (published in the Roanoke Times today)

I was slightly less disturbed by the Boy Scouts of America's new membership policy after reading it in the context of its preamble.  While the new policy specifies that no youth may be denied membership because of sexual orientation or preference alone, the preamble insists that: "Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting."

Bingo.  These are, after all, children, whose "sexual orientation" and "sexual preference" we are expounding, and BSA is right to recognize that any sexual conduct by youth is unacceptable.

The thoughtful observer is left, then, to wonder:  what is the purpose of the policy change?

If it is meant to ensure that no boy is excluded from scouting simply because he is less masculine in appearance, gait, voice, or athletic acumen than the average Tom, Dick, or Harry, then it is a good thing.  No one should be excluded on the basis of innate characteristics over which he has no control.  That is a form of discrimination which is mean-spirited and unjust, and it is right for BSA to prohibit it.

I am encouraged by the statements on BSA's website recognizing this critical distinction between identity and actions.  In other words, a boy who may allegedly feel "attracted" to other boys can still be a scout, but a boy who acts on that attraction (or on opposite-sex attraction, for that matter) by engaging in sexual conduct cannot.

This is a noble and appropriate position in that it manifests compassion for kids while preserving moral integrity.  Each of us struggles with our own temptations, yet hopes to find grace and acceptance as we struggle.  It is when we yield to our temptations and embrace them as our intended way of life that love demands the toughness of a hard line.  There are few aspects of one's identity, nature or feelings that can be controlled, but actions surely can and should be restrained and guided by moral instruction.

What continues to gnaw at me, however, is the awareness that a society bent on erasing the idea of “wrong” will not be sated by this kind of position.  For instance, the public discussion about the need for acceptance of boys who are “openly gay” suggests that “tolerance” requires scout leaders to yield the floor to boys who choose to discuss their sexual urges openly (or at least if those urges are same-sex in nature). 

This would be at odds with the BSA’s explicit statements that it does not intend to permit the sexualization of scouting.  If BSA’s policy is interpreted by leaders to obliterate the value of sexual purity—which, at this age, means chastity--then this noble organization will lose valuable acreage of moral high ground that benefits all boys, whatever their feelings or inclinations. 

The policy is also troubling because any effort to suggest to (or teach?) scouts that homosexual activity is a "morally straight" option creates an irreconcilable conflict for many with the fulfillment of the scout oath to do one's "duty to God."  The God of the Bible has condemned the practice of homosexuality in no uncertain terms, and BSA should refuse to attempt the impossible task of reconciling Holy Scripture with the new cultural "norm." 

Such mediation efforts will not produce more enlightened, caring men; they will, if successful, produce men who die of thirst in a desert of moral relativism.  How cruel it would be to insist that scouts be “morally straight” while denying the existence of a plumb line.

C.S. Lewis aptly lamented, "We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise."  My hope is that Boy Scouts of America may yet help men to find their chests.  That doesn't mean tolerating the bullying or exclusion of boys who are different or struggling.  It does mean holding fast to the distinction between accepting people and approving of their behavior


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Courts, Prayer, and People's Hurt Feelings

You may have heard by now that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving invocations at town meetings.  The case, Town of Greece v. Galloway, arises out of a New York town where officials tried hard to do everything right. 

Under the Town's neutral policy, clergy from various places of worship listed in town publications were invited to offer invocations at the monthly public meetings.  Citizens could also volunteer to offer prayers, and no volunteer (including a Buddhist and a member of the Baha'i faith) was ever refused the opportunity.

So what was the problem with that, you ask?  According to the Second Circuit, there simply weren't enough prayer-givers from minority religions to make the invocation practice acceptable.  This produced the unconscionable result that must, at all costs, be avoided:  the potential for someone in the crowd to "feel" like an "outsider" because the majority of the prayers sounded Christian. 

The appellate court's decision is troubling on many levels.  But most troubling to me, by far, is the idea of a First Amendment that prohibits speech on the basis of how others may feel about it. 

Today I have begun drafting an amicus (friend of the court) brief to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of Virginia Christian Alliance and a number of state legislators.  Our goal is to talk the Court down from the ledge of its modern Establishment Clause jurisprudence, reminding them that the whole point of the First Amendment was to not only protect, but to encourage the kind of robust, full-throated debate that is meaningful enough to cause hurt feelings, but important enough to be worth it.