Stay strong, Boy Scouts; we need you


“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” — The Boy Scout Oath

Talk that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is considering bankruptcy doesn’t seem to register with the public as a bad thing, or at least something that should be marked as another signpost in our societal descent. Nobody took a knee in protest, no mobs formed in front of whatever bank is holding the errant notes signed to pay legal fees resulting from challenges to its policies.

That may be because the Boy Scouts some time ago gave up their raison de existence and thereby our sympathy. If “boy” doesn’t really mean “boy” then what exactly does “boy scout” mean? We don’t know anymore. The columnist Cal Thomas recently broke down the group’s oath, which has become a matter of contention:

“On my honor? In today’s twisted thinking, how should honor be defined and by whom? Duty to God? What about the atheist? What does ‘best’ mean and doesn’t that discriminate against boys who can’t live up to such a standard? Physically strong? Doesn’t that mean that the physically weak might feel excluded? And then we have the most offensive of all, at least by ever-shifting standards of what constitutes morality. Scouts are to be ‘morally straight.’ According to whose morals? And what does ‘straight’ mean?”

Yet, this must be the moment when the BSA has a choice, when it can stand strong on its marvelous oath, hold its ground until the crazed social-justice warriors sweep by. The result might be a smaller organization but a proud one with its mission intact.

So far, however, the leadership has backpedaled, mollified, postured, compromised, appeased and finally pled no contest, all on the advice of the best and most expensive counsel. Nobody seems concerned that if the BSA were to be existentially altered we would have a national tragedy — for each of us, boys, girls or whatever, Scouts or not.

There is an empirical measure of the damage being done. Maryann O. Keating, writing a white paper on social capital for the upcoming Indiana Policy Review, cites a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the BSA in 2005, before the implosion. From her paper:

“Men with scouting backgrounds were more likely than those with no scouting background to place greater importance on measures of good citizenship. This was especially true of men who were scouts for five or more years. Men who were scouts believed that voting in every election, showing concern for your neighbor’s property, keeping one’s property clean and staying physically fit are essential to good citizenship. Men with scouting backgrounds gave greater importance to attending church or religious services regularly, financially supporting religious organizations, participating in youth-related organizations, taking part in charitable organizations and volunteering time in the community.”

Keating also notes that the profile of the typical former scout has dropped a notch or two on the morality scale:

“As compared with a 1995 survey, fewer men responding to the 2005 survey placed high importance on showing concern for their neighbors’ property, keeping their property clean or attending religious services regularly. Measures of ethical beliefs also declined. Fewer men agreed that being honest with everyone pays off and that preserving our environment for future generations is very important. Fewer men thought it wrong under all circumstances to smoke marijuana, and slightly more reported smoking this drug.”

There is no doubt that some today not only observe such a trend without lament but applaud this “broadening” of a typical scout’s profile. We can do with fewer insufferable young prigs helping little old ladies across our streets, they seem to be saying.

We, being insufferable old prigs, disagree. The BSA in its 100 sum years has demonstrated an astonishing ability to build character and self-reliance in its young members — specifically to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

There may be societies in the world so hip they don’t need social capital of this sort, so advanced they can throw away such an organization. Ours, though, is not one of them — not even close.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review. Send comments to awoods@

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