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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

Scouting Report: Be Prepared for the Worst

March 25, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

A boy in the Boy Scouts should be able to do three things:

1. Rub two twigs together to make a fire.

2. Find berries, so he won't have to starve or eat the twigs.

3. Help old people cross the street, as long as the old people want to cross the street.

But if a boy in California wants to be a Boy Scout, he has to be able to do three more things:

1. Keep out boys who don't like girls.

2. Keep out boys who don't love God.

3. Keep out girls.

That is what the California Supreme Court ruled this week, in establishing itself as the biggest bunch of marshmallows ever to grace a campfire.

I believe a Boy Scout must be only three things:

1. A good kid.

2. Willing to meet all kinds of kids.

3. Not taught to condemn other kinds of kids.

Instead, to be a Scout in this state, a boy must obey two cardinal rules from the handbook: You Will Like Who We Tell You to Like, and You Will Worship Who We Tell You to Worship.

Otherwise, hand in your uniform.

If I salute the Boy Scouts of America today, it won't require three fingers.

*

There are 51,000 Cub Scout packs, 50,000 Boy Scout troops and 27,000 Explorers organizations in this country. That's a whole lot of boys, having a whole lot of jamborees.

Being a good Scout means being "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."

(I could never be one myself, being only 11 out of 12.)

Scouts impress me, particularly in the way they learn how to fend for themselves.

But I naturally thought a Scout would also be encouraged to think for himself.

I figured a kid could be a Buddhist, a Baptist, a Spinozist or a taxidermist, as long as he could earn a tenderfoot badge.

Michael and William Randall thought the same. They are the Anaheim twins, 16 years old, who face expulsion from the Boy Scouts for having the temerity to have minds of their own.

Teardrops streamed down William's cheeks while he explained that he keeps an open mind about all faiths, which is why he and his brother wouldn't recite the "duty to God" part of the official Scout oath.

In every other way, they have been model Scouts, archetypes who belong in a recruiting brochure.

But now, to stay in the organization, they might have to do something drastic. Like move to New Jersey.

New Jersey law forbids a Scout being banned from the troop because he thinks for himself.

If a Newark kid is an agnostic, which means he isn't sure God exists, he can still be a Boy Scout.

If a Camden kid is an atheist, which means he doesn't believe God exists, he can still be a Boy Scout.

If a Hoboken kid is a homosexual, he can be a Boy Scout, be an Eagle Scout, be protected by civil rights laws, same as anybody else.

A boy's life is his own in New Jersey.

But not here in sacramental California.

According to our attorney general, Dan Lungren, to require the Boy Scouts "to accept someone who refuses to believe in God goes against the group's core beliefs."

Just not New Jersey's core beliefs, I guess.

In the Garden State, the motto of all Boy Scouts is still: "Be prepared."

In the Golden State, the motto of all Boy Scouts has become: "Don't ask, don't tell."

*

A social organization, not a business.

This was the basis for the California Supreme Court's decision that the Boy Scouts of America are free to discriminate against girls or gays or the godless, easy as 1-2-3.

Inasmuch as the Boy Scout Handbook does indeed mention a "duty to God," and allude to a need to be "morally straight," I gather this is supposed to justify denying a boy's freedom of choice, even if that handbook was written in 1910.

It feels like another Scopes trial. Everybody who reads Charles Darwin, give back your merit badges.

Somebody should take today's Boy Scouts by the hand and lead them across the street. This time, they're the ones on the wrong side.

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