Y   ears ago, when it might have been easier to simply sit on the fringes of the discussion and not rock the boat, local Boy Scout leaders played it close to their vest.

But no more. Like it or not, they've joined the debate now about whether gays should be allowed in Scouting.

It's a discussion the Boy Scouts have been having nationally for several years, but it recently came to a head in York County, thanks to a decision by the United Way of York County to withdraw its funding in 2014 if the local Boy Scout council refused to allow the inclusion of gays as Scouts and Scout leaders.

That exclusion, you see, is in violation of the United Way's policy against discrimination for sexual orientation.

The Boy Scouts of America, of course, leans in the other direction entirely. The Scout oath and law, for example, require one to "be morally straight" and "clean in thought, word and deed."

Of course we all interpret those words differently.

Some interpret them to mean that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with being a role model for adolescent boys.

So on April 2, the New Birth of Freedom Council -- it includes Scouts from York, Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin and Perry counties -- held five informational meetings at locations within the council in advance of a national vote to be taken in May by the Boy Scouts of America.


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The question: Should homosexuals be allowed to become members of the Scouting organization? Already atheists and agnostics are disallowed from participation in Scouting. Should homosexuals also be excluded?

About 70 Scout leaders from troops in York County and representatives of the New Birth of Freedom Council met at York Suburban High School to share their views on the issue.

It was an eye-opener. I can't say I'm particularly surprised by the majority point of view, but I am disappointed.

The bottom line is the Boy Scouts of America -- the national organization -- does not allow, by policy, the inclusion of homosexuals as Boy Scouts or as adult leaders.

And based on responses from local Scout leadership at the informational meetings, they'd rather the policy remain as is -- no homosexuals allowed -- by a margin of four or five to one.

Most believe the anti-gay policy is a core value of the Boy Scouts of America and shouldn't be changed no matter what the societal fallout might be.

Some adult leaders feel strongly enough about that policy they have threatened to quit Scouting and take their son/sons with them if the policy is changed to allow homosexuals.

And from what I read and hear, it seems those with the strongest objections are taking those positions because they believe they conflict with their religious beliefs.

It's an issue complicated by the fact that people are confused about the relationship of Scouting and religion and the frequent sponsorship (about 70 percent nationally) of local Scout troops by churches or religious organizations, some of which oppose homosexuality and some of which don't.

They don't realize, for example, that the Boy Scouts of America is not so much a Christian organization as it is an organization based on religion.

Two different things, I think, since Jews and Muslims are as welcome in the Boy Scouts as Catholics and Mormons.

One local Scout leader said this, as an example: "I believe our country was founded on Christian values and I believe the Boy Scouts were founded on Christian values." Not true, but he still wants to exclude homosexuals from Scouting.

The Boy Scouts have a Judeo-Christian tradition that extends well beyond Christianity. As long as someone believes in a higher power -- in other words, not atheist or agnostic -- they have always been welcome in Scouting.

In my mind this has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. It does, however, have everything to do with intolerance.

So I guess what it comes down to is we're either preparing our young men to spend a lifetime with tolerance of those who are not exactly the same as they are, or we're teaching them they should fear and reject anyone who is different?

Thirteen years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Boy Scout organization's right to bar anyone, including gay, bisexual and transgender Scouts and Scout leaders, from membership based on the First Amendment's "freedom of association" clause.

So legally the Boy Scouts can be as exclusionary as it wants.

We all have a right, I guess, to hang out with those with whom we want to hang out -- people who look like us, think like us and live like us.

Except that I'm fairly certain that's not healthy for any of us.

It only closes doors that should be opened.

So why would we want to do that?

To ourselves ... or to our sons and grandsons?

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.