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Boy Scouts numbers up, finances hold, despite pressures on varied fronts

IRVING, Texas (BP)–Despite ongoing controversy over its refusal to accept acknowledged homosexuals as leaders, a national spokesman said the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recorded an increase in participation last year.

A total of 4,941,000 youth ages 6-18 were involved in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and “Learning for Life,” a classroom instructional program, as of Dec. 31, 2000, up slightly over the 4,933,000 involved at the end of 1999.

The number of adult volunteers rose dramatically last year, to 1,489,000, an increase of 15 percent, over the 1999 year-end total of 1,290,000.

The only drop occurred in the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers programs, by just over 1 percent, from 3,392,000 to 3,351,000. The Scouts’ national spokesman, Gregg Shields, attributed the latter to demographic trends.

“We see those numbers static for the next few years,” Shields said. “Then they will pick up in mid-decade, due to increases in immigration and minority populations.”

This picture is at odds with recent news media reports portraying the Scouts as under siege for refusing to abandon their policy against homosexual scoutmasters.

Most notably, an April 1 installment of CBS’ “60 Minutes” said the Scouts were losing members, money and sponsors after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the group’s ban on homosexual leaders last June.

Reporter Lesley Stahl cited several United Way agencies eliminating funds, the loss of $300,000 in city and county grants in Broward County, Fla.; and several churches and synagogues that have stopped sponsoring troops.

Shields noted, however, that the estimated two dozen United Way chapters that have eliminated funding represent less than 2 percent of the United Way’s 1,400 affiliates.

60 Minutes’ Broward County report, meanwhile, overlooked a key development. While the local United Way has cut funding, specially designated gifts will replace almost all of the loss in the coming year.

“My understanding is we’ll receive almost as much in designated giving as allocated giving,” said Jeff Herrmann of the South Florida Council, which is awaiting official notification from United Way.

For the fiscal year ending April 30, the council received $128,000 from the agency, which has voted to no longer provide money to Boy Scouts from general allocations.

Herrmann said other recent donations have boosted finances for the council, which serves a three-county area stretching through the Florida Keys. The new finances include more than $110,000 in donations or pledges from a dozen churches and $40,000 from a retired businessman.

Just as important was a show of support from area churches after the Broward County school board voted last November to oust Scouts programs from school property, Herrmann said.

That affected about 65 troops and packs; 70 percent of them quickly found new homes, he said. Although an injunction later overturned the school board’s action, a great deal of confusion existed before BSA went to court, causing nine groups to fold, he said.

“The churches really came to our rescue,” Herrmann said. “They said, ‘Until this gets sorted out, meet in our [buildings].’ Some of the churches have enjoyed the relationship and are saying, ‘Stay here.'”

Among other significant gifts received by Scouts groups in recent months, Shields noted, are a pair of anonymous donations to the Pittsburgh, Pa., council for $1.5 million and a $1.2 million gift to the National Parks Council in Provo, Utah.

Since the 300 independent councils raise their own funds, Shields said he doesn’t know whether all those affected by United Way cuts have been able to make up the difference.

Among other controversies in recent months:

— The Greater New York Chapter has until the end of June to review its policies against homosexual leaders, according to a report on the CNSNews.com website. The city council is pressuring the local Scouts organization to ease the ban on homosexual leaders by threatening to discontinue the free use of its buildings by 130,000 scouts.

— In January, The New York Times reported that Reform Jewish leaders are recommending parents withdraw their children from the Boy Scouts and that synagogues end their sponsorship of troops. Overall, Jewish organizations sponsor 277 Scout troops or Cub packs with nearly 7,200 members, The Times reported.

— In mid-April, USA Today reported that BSA refused to renew the Scouting charter of a Baptist church in Chapel Hill, N.C. The newspaper said that Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, which had sponsored a Cub pack and Scout troop for 39 years, wanted to honor its anti-discrimination policy, which conflicted with the Scouts’ policy. The church, formerly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, was one of two congregations that prompted the SBC to amend its constitution in 1993 to prevent SBC affiliation by churches that affirm homosexuality.

— While U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrook upheld BSA’s contention that the Broward County school board could not interfere with the Scouts’ First Amendment rights because they disagree with its ban, the battle over the use of school property there continues.

Plans to start charging the Scouts after its leases expired March 31 are on hold, pending a review of its policy toward all groups that use district property. But Herrmann said the issue wouldn’t be resolved until the case is either settled or goes to trial.

The attempt to rescind free use of schools prompted an interesting letter to the editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel recently by a 19-year-old former Scout who identified himself as homosexual.

Patrick Keefe said Boy Scouts help the community, better the world around them and turn boys into more productive members of society. One would think a group that tried to do this for children would be welcomed by schools, he wrote.

“The Boy Scouts are not going around preaching that homosexuality is bad and they never had,” Keefe wrote. “While I disagree with it, I must honor their beliefs. I try to change [their] mind about gays, but I am also trying to stop those who are trying to hurt the Boy Scouts.”

— Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum recently ordered his administration to drop a rule change that could have prevented state employees from using payroll deductions to support BSA. The change was aimed at groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation.

— Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg has resigned from BSA’s advisory board, saying he was saddened by the group participating in discrimination.

“Once scouting opens its doors to all who desire the same experience that so fully enriched me as a young person, I will be happy to reconsider a role on the advisory board,” he said in a mid-April statement.

“It’s not discrimination,” replied Joey Robinson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles BSA council, according to the Newsmax.com website. “It’s the right to set membership standards. Every group has its own standards. The Girl Scouts have a rule that you have to be a girl.”

Commenting on the brouhaha surrounding the Scouts’ policy, syndicated columnist Don Feder noted recently that the Boy Scouts take the same kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach as the military.

However, he said nondiscrimination based on bedroom behavior has become a litmus test of righteousness for leftists, with freedom of conscience not tolerated.

“In shaping the identity of millions of boys over the past 90 years, Scouting has done immeasurable good …,” he wrote. “If gay activists can succeed in demonizing the Scouts and eventually bending the group to their will, anything is possible.”

Nobody is forced to participate in Scouting, Shields added.

“Isn’t it interesting that people who champion tolerance and diversity don’t practice it themselves?” he asked. “They can’t tolerate the Boy Scouts but we extend that right to everyone else.”
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  • Ken Walker