“So natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about…” – John Stuart Mill

Sitting down at the breakfast table with my Host Dad, Dave this morning we sighed as we took in our daily diet of negative news offered to us by the Washington Post. “I don’t even know why I read the news,” he said. A sentiment I agree with from time to time, as the saying goes “No news is good news,” right?

The articles regarding Syria worry me, the Eurozone crisis frustrates me but nothing annoyed me more this morning than the headline which read, “Boy Scouts to Continue Excluding Gay People.” In 2000 in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the Supreme Court upheld in a 5-4 decision, the right of the Scouts to expel a gay voluntary scoutmaster. The justification given was that as a private organization, the Scouts had the right to decide what values they wanted to enforce.

Following an internal review over the past two years, the American Scouting movement has reaffirmed its longstanding policy of barring openly gay boys from membership and gay or lesbian adults from serving in leadership roles. However the word which stands out is “internal,” meetings were held in secret and neither the membership, nor the methods used to come to this conclusion were divulged. In statements to the press, the Association said that it was “absolutely the best policy” and that the exclusion “reflects the beliefs and perspectives” of the organization.

Richard Ferraro (Gay and Lesbian AAD) in highlighting that the Scouts were one of the last cultural institutions to have discrimination as part of its policy, stated that it was out of step with society. To me, it would seem that the Scouting Association has not changed its outlook since its formation in 1910.

To paraphrase John Stuart Mill, every man by nature is intolerant to those around him; nobody is without their own moral personality. Most are of the view that if their beliefs and the way in which they choose to conduct their life were applied to everyone then society would be better a place; this is why they think like and live like this in the first place. However as “Dealing with Difference,” is a key WIP theme this year, I wish to highlight how such intolerance can be poisonous in the modern day.

The struggle between liberty and authority, the morality of homosexuality and the debate of the private vs. public sphere have been described as some of the most conspicuous features of society. There are two questions which arise in light of these events. First is it acceptable for an organization or group of people to exclude anybody on the grounds of personal characteristics which they cannot change, such as sexual orientation? Second is the state morally obliged to intervene when an injustice (if there is one in this case), has taken place?

When I spoke to one person regarding this case today they argued that there was a moral “rationale” behind the Supreme Court decision and Scouts announcement. This assumption based on rationale rather than on principle necessitates that the issue at the heart of the case be observed. Dale (the gay scout leader) was excluded on the basis of his sexuality, from a group in which he had invested time and effort voluntarily. The Scouting Association extradited him due to the fact that he did not conform to ‘its system of values,’ what concrete values these actually are fails, even now to be identified. The Scout Oath cited in the 2000 case, “I will do my best…to keep myself morally straight,” was a somewhat incoherent argument put forward by the Scouts in my opinion. It’s simple, to not be “straight” in your sexual orientation has no relationship with being “morally straight.”

If I was to flip the argument on its head, one could also say that in the Scout Oath there is reference made to “helping others” and in Scout Law to being “friendly.” Surely it is more morally detrimental to instil in young people those values which encourage discrimination. It would be more “friendly” and “helpful” to set an example of inclusion, that is to educate young people on the natural practise of loving one another, whether they be a person of the same sex or not. It seems odd and not the least bit rational to have penalised Dale in the past and others in the future on the basis of loving another human being.

Rather the reason behind this exclusion policy it would seem is because homosexuals do not conform to a group of individuals’ (the senior ranks of the Scouting movement), sense of normality or their own personal moral standards. Whether it makes any difference in the outcome of the debate is maybe questionable but it must be noted that the Scouts did not set out these “perspectives and opinions” in any kind of founding document. It was not clear to Dale or any other past scout leader from the outset that they were prohibited from joining this group on the basis of their sexuality. In fact it would seem that these rules have simply been made up as time has gone on and that they are being administered retrospectively by a small group of elite individuals. The principle of allowing social groups or private associations to use the threat of ostracism to limit liberty and ensure conformity is dangerous and wholly unacceptable.

The counterargument which is being indirectly put forward in the Scouts’ defence is that individuals are free to conduct themselves in any way they choose but the consequence is that they must forfeit their right to membership of the Boy Scouts. Such an outlook gives homosexuals little or arguably no choice at all, they cannot simply make the decision to not be gay and therefore be able to remain a member or leader. The sense of paternalism which surrounds this moralistic decision frightens me, what if this case centred on the exclusion of women or blacks, would the state still fail to intervene?

Of course there is also a case for protecting the liberty and freedom of private associations. It was set out in the initial Supreme Court case that “A state requirement that the Boy Scouts retain Dale would significantly burden the organization’s right to oppose or disfavour homosexual conduct.” I agree to a certain extent that censorship on the freedom of expression is not acceptable. However this argument if blindly applied leads to injustice taking place and it goes both ways, for the Scouts who would be oppressed by the State and Dale who was oppressed by the Scouts themselves.

State institutions should facilitate justice in society and in my view; it is time the Scout Association’s policy was struck down. Intervention is permissible in my view if it achieves a just end, that being the inclusion of members of any sex, race or sexual orientation into the Scouts. To let the alternative social arrangement to prevail in this case would be an example of a state failing to protect one of its citizens, a largely vulnerable individual at that. If such a principle was applied in every such situation, the maximum wellbeing of society would deteriorate at a phenomenal pace.

I leave those who still doubt the role of the state with one question. If it is not the government or state authorities who intervene and show leadership in this case, who is left with the legitimate authority to stand up for vulnerable human beings in our society?

Advertisements