We are delighted to once again welcome the Scouts and adult leaders of Troop 97 to our Erev Shabbat service. This is an annual event going back to 1948, when Troop 97 was first sponsored by the Oheb Shalom Brotherhood, now Men’s Club. This is the 65th anniversary of the relationship between Temple Oheb Shalom and Troop 97. Created in the same year as the State of Israel, Troop 97 has grown, prospered, and contributed mightily to its host congregation.
We are exceedingly grateful to the scouts and leaders of Troop 97 for all the help they give us. From setting up chairs for the High Holydays to helping run our fantastic Purim Carnival, Troop 97 does good deeds on a regular basis. Its scouts have benefited our entire community through thousands upon thousands of hours of community service. Even more than that, Troop 97 has produced hundreds of young men of character and achievement. We are quite proud to be its sponsor.
It makes me even prouder to say that Troop 97 has made it clear that it will not discriminate against LGBT scouts and scout leaders. It has proclaimed its openness to any scout regardless of sexual orientation. While it often takes a young person a long time to figure out if he is gay or straight, we understand that a person is born with a particular sexual orientation. Discriminating against gay scouts is as ridiculous as discriminating against someone who is born with blue or brown eyes or red hair. Boy scouting, just like the military, should be open to all who want to be part of something larger than them selves. One’s character has little or nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation. One can be a loyal, trustworthy, and hardworking scout and be gay or straight. What is crucial about a person is the quality of their character. Boy scouting is an opportunity for young men to develop and test their character in a variety of situations. That is something that should be available to all.
I deeply regret that the Boy Scouts of America has postponed a vote ending the national ban on gay scouts until May 24, during the annual meeting. It was supposed to be held on January 28, but internal opposition led to it being postponed. The internal debate is being shaped by “two great forces that have defined scouting for decades: The huge role played by churches in sponsoring scout troops and the tradition of local control, which can differ greatly from urban downtowns to rural farm country. Maintaining local control became a crossroads of the debate. Although many of the church sponsors, almost 70% of local scout units are backed by a religious based group are culturally conservative, they also hugely cherish the right to make scouting an adjunct of their respective belief systems. In Mormon led scout troops, a Mormon prayer usually opens and closes a troop’s meeting, while in a Catholic group, it might be the Lord’s Prayer.”
There are approximately 40,000 Jewish scouts in the United States, represented by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. The National Jewish Committee recently held a vote on whether to end the ban. The vote was 27 in favor of ending the ban, one opposed with one abstention. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting is clearly more inclusive than the national body as a whole.
Since 2000, when a 5-4 ruling by the United States Supreme Court affirmed the Boy Scout’s right to ban gay scouts, the Boy Scouts of America has lost one-fifth of its membership. As a consequence of the ban, the Reform Movement’s Commission on Social Action urged its congregation’s to withdraw sponsorship of Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs. Temple Oheb Shalom recognized the importance of Troop 97 to the boys and adults who are part of it and urged the leadership of Troop 97 to develop a non-discrimination policy which it immediately, to its great credit, developed. The question will come before us again in late May if the 1,400 member national ruling council of Boy Scouts of America votes to affirm its ban on gay scouts. If that happens, and I sincerely pray it does not, I will urge the leadership of Troop 97, along with that of other Jewish scout troops, to re-consider their ties to the national organization. It certainly would be an option for the synagogue sponsored scout troops to create their own national governing body until the national council comes to its senses. Needless to say, this is a difficult subject that is religiously and culturally divisive. The country, however, is changing. Most Americans today uphold the right of LGBTs to legally marry and live without fear of discrimination. We pray that the Boy Scouts of America will do the same.
Amen and Shabbat Shalom