Should Eagle Scouts return their Eagle Scout Awards to the Boy Scouts of America’s national offices to protest the BSA’s continued practice of discrimination?
As an Eagle Scout, this question is extremely personal. As with other Eagle Scouts (there are no such things as “former Eagle Scouts,” there is an old saying, “once an Eagle, always an Eagle”), I spent years as a scout in a variety of troop leadership positions, worked on many merit badges, and completed a time-consuming service project (for which I also received an award from my city). So, even considering parting with one’s Eagle Scout Award is a very personal and soul-searching experience.
Many within the BSA belittle and laugh at the actions of those Eagle Scouts who return their Eagle Scout Awards. Such disdain from active volunteer scout leaders is a clear indication of the organization’s lack of scouting’s basic principles. Some scouters seem to fixate on the medal itself and dismiss both the symbolism the medal represents, as well as the symbolism of returning the medal. It is ironic that these scouters dismiss symbology, when the entire BSA program is predicated on symbolism: fleur-de-lis, scout sign, scout handshake, uniforms, the entire advancement program, flags, etc. To scorn symbolic actions when the entire scouting program is wrapped up within symbols indicates that they have no basic understanding of scouting whatsoever.
It should be noted that this recent wave of Eagle Scouts returning their Eagle Scout Awards to the BSA is not new. After the Supreme Court upheld the BSA’s right to discriminate against whomever it wishes to do so in 2000, many Eagle Scouts returned their Eagle Scout Awards to the BSA. Also, many Eagle Scouts who joined the National Eagle Scout Association (usually at the time they earned their Eagle and their membership was paid for by family or friends), found themselves expelled from the NESA when they learned that they were either non-heterosexual or non-theistic.
At that time, as well as today, the BSA has downplayed the number of Eagle Scouts who have returned their awards. Given the Internet today, it is easier than ever to document the number of Eagle Scouts who have stated that they returned their awards and compare it with the BSA’s “less than 10″ obvious tall tale. Photographs of the actual medals and letters provide clear evidence of these actions. Given the BSA’s inability to follow the first point of the Scout Law – “A Scout is Trustworthy” – one has to wonder if returning an Eagle Scout Award will have any impact with the BSA?
Some have decided to send their Eagle Scout Awards to Scouting for All, to not only truthfully account for such actions, but to hold the awards in trust until the day the BSA ends its discriminatory practices. (They even have a page which lists those who have surrendered their medals.) Once their medal has been mailed to S4A, they simply send a letter to the BSA informing them of their action and reasons. You may consider sending your Eagle patch or NESA membership card to the BSA, instead of your medal. This might be the smarter course of action to take given the BSA’s inability to be trustworthy.
But, I would challenge those Eagle Scouts who do consider the BSA’s current membership policies to be antithetical to scouting’s principles to do the following:
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper(s) denouncing the BSA’s policies.
- Contact the local United Way chapter and find out if they have a non-discrimination policy (religious belief and/or sexual orientation) in regards to with which organizations that they give money. If so, do they give ANY money to the local council? If so, ask them why?
- Does your local public school permit the local council to recruit public school children during instructional time? If so, why?
- Does your local public school provide free or reduced rental costs to local scout units that are not available to any other organization? If so, why?
- Does your local council insist that they are “inclusive,” yet do not mention sexual orientation as not being a bar to membership ANYWHERE? If they insist that they are “different” from BSA national, tell them you’re gay/atheist and ask for a membership application and see what happens.
- Have you talked with friends and family members about the BSA’s policies and how destructive it is to children to learn that some people are second class and immoral, because of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation? What about friends who have children that are scout-age? Are they thinking of having their children join the BSA?
The bottom line is that returning your hard-earned Eagle Scout Award to the BSA is a symbolic action. Yes, a powerful symbolic action, but at the end of the day, what has it accomplished?(Please note that I am not discounting in any way the choice many have made to return their Eagle Award.) Yes, the media storm has been fantastic, but once you placed that package in the mailbox, then the hard work really begins – changing the BSA’s policies. Work that has been going on with the BSA since 1978!
Personally, my Eagle Scout Award is hanging on my wall in my home office. I don’t intend to return it to the BSA, because it is MINE. However, I intend to do whatever I can to make the public aware of the BSA’s discriminatory practices and urge that pressure be brought to bear on the BSA to change their policies.
What will you do?