Churches Must Deal with Gays in Boy Scouts: Methodists, Mormons Are Top Sponsors

Article excerpt

Court battles over the Boy Scout ban on admitting homosexuals, based on its "God and country" doctrine, appear to be spreading to church groups that sponsor scouting.

Methodists and Mormons together sponsor 25 percent of all Boy Scouts, and 35 percent of the nation's scouting units.

A top official of the United Methodist Church - sponsor of 11,738 scout units - predicts its hierarchy likely will be asked soon to decide if the church's ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation applies to scouting.

The church's Commission on United Methodist Men currently is engaged in a drive to more than triple the number of affiliated troops. The goal is to add Scout troops until there is one in all 37,000 Methodist churches.

"We believe nondiscrimination is the order of the day," Assistant General Secretary Jane Hall Harvey said yesterday, suggesting that if the Boy Scouts stand firm it could lead to a parting of the ways. "There's no way our church Supreme Court is not going to say that's the law of the church," citing declared Methodist support for "equal rights regardless of sexual orientation."

But that is not the view of the Rev. Joseph L. Harris, who heads the Methodist men's commission based in Nashville, Tenn. He subscribes so strongly to "the traditional view" of banning both homosexuals and atheists from scouting that he joined the Mormon church in filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the Boy Scouts in the New Jersey case decided on Aug. 4.

Mr. Harris said in an interview he hoped that longtime Methodist support for the boys' programs would continue.

"I think it could be a danger, more to scouting than in the church," Mr. Harris said. "The dispute has come among the church hierarchy, about the issue of homosexuality."

In a case brought by Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts of America are a "public accommodation" that must be open to all like a hotel or restaurant. BSA vows to defend its First Amendment rights in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I think the Boy Scouts is perfectly within its rights but may eventually decide to delete the restriction on gays, just as they decided to allow female scoutmasters, even though they won in court battles trying to force that," said Edward M. Brown, vice president of the Association of Baptists for Scouting and its immediate past president. …