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New Policy For Boy Scout Sponsors Slows Approval For Certain Groups


Some organizations that have not traditionally sponsored scouting are trying to do so now. This is after the Boy Scouts decided to allow gay youth and leaders in the group. At the same time, Scouts are narrowing the definition of what makes an ideal troop sponsor. Terry Gildea of member station KUER in Utah explains.

TERRY GILDEA, BYLINE: Leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have crafted a new policy that states some advocacy organizations are not ideal sponsors for Scout troops. Inside his office at the Great Salt Lake Council, Scout executive Rick Barnes walks me through the recently updated new unit application.

RICK BARNES: So if you look kind of there at the middle bullet, it says that charter organizations must not use the scouting program to pursue any objective related to political or social advocacy.

GILDEA: But many religious organizations that have partnered with scouting for decades as troop sponsors have a history of engaging in social activism. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Roman Catholic Church have been involved in advocating for a lot of causes, from helping the poor to protecting what they call traditional marriage. So I asked Barnes why religious activism is acceptable in the eyes of scouting.

BARNES: The best way for me to answer that is, if the scouting unit is chartered by a religious organization, then that is - especially if they're a long-standing chartered partner, then, of course, that partnership is approved

GILDEA: In a statement from Boy Scout officials at the national level, they say they've always prohibited single-issue advocacy organizations from using scouting to advance a political or social agenda and that advocacy is not the primary purpose of the religious groups they partner with. Local Salt Lake activist Mark Lawrence says he isn't buying the BSA's new rule.

MARK LAWRENCE: They have hundreds of nonprofit organizations that hold charters right now, and all nonprofits are advocacy groups for one thing or another. They are really reaching to come up with reasons, and none of them hold any water.

GILDEA: Lawrence is the director of Restore Our Humanity, a local organization that's been involved in gay rights, among other causes. He hopes to create a troop that accepts everyone regardless of religious affiliation or sexual orientation. He says if the application is rejected, he will pursue legal action.

LAWRENCE: They're just going to expect us to walk away and ride off into the sunset, and that is not going to happen.

GILDEA: Forty percent of troops nationwide and 98 percent of troops in the Great Salt Lake Council are charted by Mormon congregations, and some in Salt Lake are interested in changing that. They include a Baptist minister, a rabbi and even some Mormons. One of them is George Fisher, a former LDS scoutmaster of a Mormon troop and a former bishop. Fisher says LDS scouting doesn't give non-Mormon boys the same opportunities.

GEORGE FISHER: So an outsider coming into an LDS troop would be denied that opportunity of becoming a senior patrol leader or having that leadership experience which is preparation for life or employment.

GILDEA: When BSA leaders voted to accept gay adults as volunteers, they also allowed groups like the Mormon Church to turn away gay adults because they don't reach that organization's moral standard. Fisher's 19-year-old grandson Josh is gay. He believes an all-inclusive troop could provide an opportunity for Josh to set a positive example for gay kids.

FISHER: And he can say, you know, I survived; I existed; I went through this; I felt some repercussions because of my gender orientation. So Josh has a lot of gifts.

GILDEA: National Boy Scout officials said in a statement, the application for the all-inclusive Salt Lake Troop will be reviewed by a special volunteer committee that is currently being formed. Meanwhile, the Great Salt Lake Boy Scout Council says it's trying to start more troops for non-Mormon scouts. For NPR News, I'm Terry Gildea in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.