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BSA's Racial Policies

     No one who has ever studied the history of the Boy Scouts of America can deny that the organization allowed (and in some cases, encouraged) councils to adopt a policy of racial discrimination until 1974. It was not until 1942, that the last council rescinded its ban on African Americans from being Boy Scouts. Up until this time, councils, under pressure from their local communities were permitted, even encouraged, by the National Council to ban minority boys (eg: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, etc.) from joining. In many cases, if the BSA National Council had previously commissioned an African American to be a Scoutmaster (or issued a charter to an African American troop), when a white-led council was formed in the area, these leaders and units would be expelled from the BSA, with the full support of the BSA and its Chief Scout Executive at the time, James E. West. (For an example of this, see the NAACP Papers.)

     While the National Council, as per the instructions of the organization's original incorporator -- William D. Boyce -- was to be "open to all boys," encompassing all races; a few short months it all had changed. (See the Finding of Facts in the Pool case for the following BSA statement – "Our federal charter sets forth our obligation to serve boys. Neither the charter nor the bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America permits the exclusion of any boy. The National Council and Executive Board have always taken the position that Scouting should be made available for all boys who meet entrance age requirements.")

     When the BSA's executive board held their first meeting in November 1910, they passed a resolution allowing councils to deny membership on the basis of race. Instead of reaffirming the inclusive policy set forth by Boyce -- the BSA was open to all boys, regardless of race or creed -- the BSA adopted discrimination as a foundational principle of the nascent organization. This policy was adopted while they were trumpeting the new organization as "open to all American boys!" Even when they sought a congressional charter in 1916, they continued to state that the BSA was "open to all boys." In reality, scouting was denied to thousands of African American boys for generations in many parts of the country because if the BSA's adoption of Jim Crow.

    This racial policy was never printed in any BSA handbook for boys or adults. This allowed the BSA national offices to state that "all boys" were welcomed by the BSA, while allowing councils to ban African American boys. But it was not just a blind eye that the national office turned on this issue. When African American boys were expelled and turned to the national office, they found themselves rejected. This practice provided the BSA with decades of experience in telling the American public one thing, while doing the exact opposite. A practice that the BSA continues to this day.

     The adoption of the policy of white supremacy -- and given the published views of many of the people involved in the BSA at the time warrants that term -- continued well after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling against the principle of "separate, but equal." Even the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not move the BSA  to adopt a national non-discrimination policy on the issue of race that local councils would have to follow.

     During the 1960s, several people have suggested that the BSA quietly suggested to councils that they should integrate their Scouting programs as soon as their local community was ready to do so. (To date, no documentary proof exists that this actually occurred.) This  usually meant well after local public schools had been integrated, as the BSA was never one to make changes simply because it was a moral course of action. The BSA only made changes when it felt that resisting such change would cause the organization more harm, regardless of the morality of the situation.

     What is of note to this web site is that the BSA has never publicly stated that it prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin in any of its programs, or allows local councils to practice such discrimination. A review of its Annual Reports since the 50s to the present, fail to assert any such non-discrimination policy.

     In 1974, the BSA was sued by the NAACP for racial discrimination. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court. As part of the settlement, BSA was required to issue its first ever statement regarding discrimination. The BSA's Chief Scout Executive did issue a letter to the judge stating that the BSA does not discriminate on the basis of race, yet he BSA's executive board never passed any form of non-discrimination policy/statement. This was also the year that the last council finally stopped segregation and integrated its program -- 64 years after the BSA was founded!

     In other words, the BSA did not take the opportunity to publicly repeal its racial policy allowing local councils to discriminate, if the local community would have problems with a non-discriminatory BSA council. While the BSA has asserted its right to free expression trumps state and local laws regarding public accommodations, specifically involving sexual orientation and religious belief, it has also rejected federal civil rights laws dealing with race.

     In a recent case (See Adams v. Boy Scouts of America, No. 3CV98 313, 2000 WL 33671779, at 5 (E.D. Ark. Jan. 5, 2000), the BSA was alleged to have discriminated on the basis of race. The case was eventually rejected by the 8th Court of Appeals, but not before the BSA argued before the appellate court that they were not subject to any anti-discrimination laws, even those relating to race (aff'd, 271 F.3d 769, 778 (8th Cir. 2001)). Apparently the BSA had no local or national policy that prohibited racial discrimination that would have allowed the plaintiffs to claim that the BSA violated its own rules. It does not have such rules, so racial discrimination is still a possibility within the BSA..

     So, not only has the BSA asserted in the courts that it is a private religious youth organization, but an organization that is free to not only discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and religious belief, but one that can discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, ethnicity, disabilities, and anything else. In other words, if it wanted to become a WASP-only private religious youth organization, there is nothing and no one from stopping it from doing so. And, according to its admissions to the courts, they have reserved their right to do just that!

     With the exception of the BSA's narrow statement issued as a part of the settlement with the NAACP in 1974, the BSA National Council has never stated that it prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or ethnicity. Local councils have issued non-discrimination statements in regard to employment, but none on youth/adult membership. Since the Dale decision, many local councils have crafted "non-discrimination" policies in an attempt to obtain taxpayer funds. What many of these so-called policies contain is the wording that the BSA does not allow any "unlawful discrimination." The problem with that wording is that with the Dale decision in hand, they are free to practice any and all sorts of discriminatory acts, whenever they want. They have interpreted the Dale decision as a carte blanche to operate and treat its members any way they see fit, without any regard to federal, state, or local anti-discrimination laws. If that is not the case, then they would have no problem in spelling out what forms of discrimination are always "unacceptable" in their organization, in terms of membership.

     This article does not suggest that the BSA intends to expel African American Scouts in the near future, nor even allow a local council to do so. But the history of the BSA in regards to its treatment of minorities (African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, immigrants, etc.) in the past and minorities (Homosexuals, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, etc.) in the present, coupled with its failure to ever publicly reject its racial policy is deeply troubling.

     The BSA's reliance on lawyers (from its founding) to guide its moral compass resulted in its alignment with those who subjugated and discriminated against people because of the color of their skin for some 64 years. This tradition has continued into the present day when the BSA listens to its lawyers and public relations firms (eg: Edelmen & Associates) in aligning itself with those who advocate and persecute people because of their sexual orientation or religious belief. As with the Adams case, the organization's dependence on its legal team is so extreme that it had no problem in objecting to the application of civil rights laws that prohibit racial discrimination.

     A major problem with the BSA, Inc. is its refusal to acknowledge its historical participation in America's discrimination against minority communities. This is self-evident in the absence in its Annual Reports during the 60s-70s of a rejection of segregated councils, because to do so would have been to admit that many councils across the country operated on a segregated basis well into the 70s. That would be antithetical to the BSA's national message of being an organization "open to all boys."

     Until the BSA expels its lawyers from its decision-making process and starts to live by the principles espoused by the Scout Oath and Law, it will be unable to assert any moral authority within this country. This is not a position one wants to find themselves occupying when one is asking parents to entrust them with teaching their children moral principles. As can be seen in the steady and precipitous decline in BSA's traditional membership, parents are already making the decision that BSA's refusal to live by the Scout Oath and Law is not what they want for their children.

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