Earlier this month I received a note from reader Shelle Enright requesting that I "pass on" information about Scouting for All, a group working to change the Boy Scouts of America's policy of excluding homosexuals.
About a week later, I received two requests from the Claremont Institute (http://www.claremont.org/index2.htm) asking for assistance in fighting the decision of the NJ Appellate Court which ruled that the Boy Scouts must accept a homosexual man as a scout leader. Claremont also complained bitterly about the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) support of homosexuals, the decisions of the courts, and stated that we need Congressional legislation to protect the Boy Scouts.
Then yesterday I got a "survey" from the Heritage Foundation (http://www.heritage.org) asking if I believe "Congress can and should have an impact in supporting the right of private organizations such as the Boy Scouts to adhere to the traditional values they have always followed", along with a request for funds.
Who's right? As far as I can tell, no one, although Scouting for All comes closest. So before you hit the "reply" button or go racing to unsubscribe, I ask that you read this article through.
I should start by telling you that I consider myself "politically gay", although I'm a happily married, heterosexual woman. I believe, based on available medical evidence, that homosexuality is determined at a very young age, possibly even genetically, and that no "choice" is involved in determining sexual preference. I consider homosexuality to be a normal variant that has existed among humans (and other species) since the beginning of time. Being homosexual, or left-handed, or green-eyed is _different_ from the majority of humans. Different is not the same as evil or immoral.
But even if I were to concede that homosexuality is a choice, which I emphatically do not, so what? Isn't being Christian or Jewish or Muslim or atheist a choice as well? Should we now condone the persecution of minority religions because their members refuse to make the "correct" choice of religion?
My opinion is that discriminating against homosexuals is every bit as wrong as discriminating against blacks or Jews or gun owners.
I also realize that many people disagree with me. Some people who choose to discriminate against gays do so out of ignorance, fear, and bigotry. But other people base their opposition to homosexuality on deeply held religious beliefs. While I don't condone ignorance and bigotry, I do respect both the right of religious freedom and the right of free association.
I'd like to be able to simply say that the Boy Scouts have the right to discriminate against or exclude whomever they choose. I'd like to be able to say that the ACLU has the right to sue the Boy Scouts for discrimination. And I'd like to be able to say that the Claremont Institute and the Heritage Foundation have the right to oppose the ACLU and support the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policies. It should be that simple. But it's not, and the reason it's not is, once again, government meddling in what should be private affairs.
When I first approached this subject, I thought the Boy Scouts of America was a private organization and had the right to set its own rules and make its own policies. I was perfectly willing to defend this right, even though I think their policies are wrong.
Then I checked out the Boy Scouts of America web page, http://www.bsa.scouting.org/index.htm. According to the Boy Scouts: "The purpose of the Boy Scouts of America, incorporated on February 8, 1910, and chartered by Congress in 1916, is to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness."
So I now know that the organization is "chartered by Congress", i.e. the organization has the express support and approval of Congress. Any organization that discriminates or otherwise exhibits prejudice should not have Congressional endorsement. If the Boy Scouts choose to claim that they are a totally private organization, they should request that Congress rescind that charter. Congress should no more charter the Boy Scouts than it should charter the Ku Klux Klan.
It gets worse. Quoting again from the Boy Scouts' Web site, "Financial resources for the local council (the local nonprofit corporation chartered by the National Council) come from local United Ways, Sustaining Members, foundations, special events, project sales, investment income, trust funds, bequests, and gifts of real and personal property." So while some of the funds for the Boy Scouts come from dues and fees paid by members and their families, a large percentage of these funds are paid by taxpayers.
That's what non-profit, tax-exempt means: the taxpayers help fund the organization. Although this funding is not direct, i.e. the government doesn't specifically give money to the tax-exempt organization, it subsidizes it in two important ways. First, every donation to a tax-exempt organization (such as the Boy Scouts), whether from individual donors, via United Way, or via foundations and trust funds, is tax-exempt. The people who give money or property to these organizations pay less in taxes than they would if they didn't donate. Second, these tax-exempt organizations do not pay taxes on any of their income, so everyone who does pay taxes pays more to make up for what the non-contributing organizations don't pay. This is a very significant amount of money. Since the average taxpayer has about 50% of his income extorted for taxes, if _you_ were declared a tax-exempt organization, your income would immediately double.
Clearly the government is heavily subsidizing all tax-exempt organizations with money taken from taxpayers who often can neither afford to, nor have any desire to, fund these organizations. More pernicious is that the _government_ now decides for us which charities, organizations, and even which religious organizations, have its seal of approval. And without government approval and funding, few organizations, no matter how beneficial, stand much of chance of surviving.
Although I'm personally heterosexual and religious, I'm outraged that my tax dollars are helping to fund an organization that discriminates against gays and atheists. Of course you may be equally outraged to find that your tax dollars are being used to fund various gay and lesbian organizations.
Who else is getting a free ride at the expense of our tax dollars? Well, the Claremont Institute and the Heritage Foundation for two. Both organizations have 501(c)(3) tax exemptions from the IRS, and contributions are fully tax-deductible.
What are the criteria for being classified as 501(c)(3)? According to the IRS: "To be tax-exempt as an organization described in § 501(c)(3) of the Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for one or more of the purposes set forth in § 501(c)(3) and none of the earnings of the organization may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates."
Yet both Heritage and Claremont appear to be actively supporting federal legislation to protect the Boy Scouts!
The American Civil Liberties Union _looks_ a little better. Contributions to the ACLU are not tax-deductible. But that doesn't mean that the ACLU takes no government funds. Nope. The ACLU is classified as a "public charity with a 50% exemption limit". Public charities often receive a substantial portion of their funds from "governmental units", although I don't have the exact figures for the ACLU.
What about Scouting for All? Well, according to the Scouting for All Web page, http://www.scoutingforall.org: "The SCOUTING FOR ALL "movement" is a grassroots effort to place pressure on the Boy Scouts of America to rescind its discriminatory policy of excluding gay youth and adults from scouting." In other words, "Scouting for All" is made up entirely of volunteers. They advocate peaceful change, through time-honored techniques such as letters, petitions and boycotts. Most important, they _don't_ advocate government intervention to _force_ anyone to do anything.
Scouting for All looks as clean and honorable as, well, boy scouts. Right now they accept only voluntary contributions from individuals, not funds from unwilling taxpayers. Unfortunately, they've applied for tax-exempt status too. It's hard to blame them; they can't realistically compete when every other organization is extorting money from taxpayers to accomplish its goals. But I still hope they'll reconsider.
Something is seriously wrong when two prominent conservative organizations start appealing for Congressional intervention in what is clearly a private matter. I've yet to find the section of the Constitution that grants Congress the power to regulate the Boy Scouts, or any other charitable, educational or religious organization for that matter.
Something is also seriously wrong when a volunteer organization of Boy Scouts feels it has no choice but to accept money taken from taxpayers who do not necessarily share its views.
My suggestion is to eliminate _all_ tax-exempt organizations. There is absolutely no justification for any of them. Of course it would be even better if we eliminated taxes, which would make the whole issue moot, while freeing up money for individuals to donate to the organizations they personally support. Then the Boy Scouts could set their own policies, and other private organizations could support or oppose them. Maybe Scouting for All could start a whole new scouting organization that could compete with the Boy Scouts on level ground.
One more thing... What started the whole uproar? The Scout Oath.
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 Scouts maintain that gays are not "morally straight". Scouting for All maintains that: "One cannot be morally straight if one discriminates against another human being."
People of good will may argue these points forever without reaching agreement. But I suspect we can all recognize hypocrisy when we see it. So I'll close by telling you that the Boy Scouts' highest commendation, the Silver Buffalo award, was given to President William J. Clinton in 1997. If our draft-dodging, philandering, "non-inhaling", and possibly felonious president is the Boy Scouts' idea of a "morally straight" role model for young men, maybe we, and our sons, should seriously consider supporting another organization.
I realize that homosexuality is a very controversial subject, and that many of you have strong opinions on the issue. So I ask you all to please remain civil in your discussions with me, with any of the organizations mentioned in this article, and with each other. Hate mail is not an appropriate tool of civilized discourse nor of civilized people.
Statement of disclosure: I am not in any way affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, Scouting for All, or the Heritage Foundation. I have been a member of the ACLU in the past, although my membership is not current. I am not a member of the Claremont Institute, although I am a supporter of their excellent organization, Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership.
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©1998 Sarah Thompson, M.D.