U.S. Scout decision to go co-ed leads to a public relations disaster

Major plan to promote condoms at jamboree mistakenly tied to the acceptance of girl scouts

America’s Boy Scout organization was hit by a public relations catastrophe last month that threatened the credibility, if not the sanity, of the whole historic Scout movement in the United States. It happened by the unfortunate timing of two events:

First: On May 2, the Scouts formally announced they planned to accept girls into their organization and were changing its “Boy” Scout designation to something else. Sixteen days later the media disclosed that the Scouts had plans to distribute condoms to attendees at the huge 50,000-member Scout Jamboree in West Virginia next September. It will include boys and girls down to age eleven. The condom announcement was included with  the publicity material for the event. It read:

‘The Host Organization must insure that condoms are readily and easily accessible for all participants and IST (International Service Team) at a number of locations on the site…When making this information available on site, consideration shall be given to the various cultures and beliefs present.”

The public might be forgiven for attributing the second announcement (on the condoms) to the first (on the participation of girls). While the Scouts hastened to dispel such a connection, people formed their own opinions. The Scouts had already announced, after much disputation, that they were  going to allow openly gay and trans-gendered kids and openly gay Scoutmasters to join the movement. Now, implicitly anyway, they were declaring the Scouts were ready to accept non-marital sex, so long as it was done “safely.”

A Scout spokesman said that the media sources which  linked the condom decision to the arrival of the Girl Scouts had seriously misinformed the public. Condoms had been made available at Scout jamborees back to turn of the century, he said.  To which the critics replied that the condom distribution at past jamborees must have been done confidentially and discreetly without fanfare and attendant publicity. The public did not protest because they did not know it was going on. This year they did, and it made the jamboree look like another Woodstock. What must a father think when he discovers that his daughter’s presence and her friends at a Scout jamboree has occasioned an urgent program of condom  distribution by the management. The disclosure that this has been going on at Scout Jamborees for years will scarcely ease his concerns.

Among the Scouts, a new policy seemed self-evident. If the old moral rules embedded in Christianity should at any time fall from public favour, the Scouts will acquiesce and go along with the “reform.” They will follow, that is, popular opinion. That is the lesson they are giving the two or three million young people who belong to the Scout movement in the United States. (Of 169 countries that have Scout groups, only 13 prohibit girls from joining. Canadian Scouts have been co-ed since 1993.

The American Boy Scout movement– now to be known as “Scouts BSA” to rid itself of the word “boy”– has some rooted problems that it hopes to relieve in part by opening the movement to girls. Its total membership has dropped by one third since the year 2000. However, it still has 2.4 million youths left, plus nearly one million volunteer leaders and helpers. However, the immediate response of the existing membership was far from positive. For starters, the Mormon Church announced it was terminating its association with young people. This will cost Scouts BSA another 425,000 members.

The Boy Scouts’ announcement that they would begin taking in girls next year  was not received joyously by the Girl Scout movement. It too is suffering a decline in membership, and now it will have to compete with the Boy Scouts to find girls. Fundamentally, however, its objections were two-fold. Presumably, the boy Scouts will have a program for the girls they propose to recruit, but what does it consist  of? Very few

facts have been mentioned. Second, the central purpose of the new Boy Scout program is to find more members. Its goal is not to offer something for girls, but to sustain the life of its own corporate existence.

The Girl Scouts meanwhile have developed a carefully considered curriculum to change the lives and capability of the girls who belong to them. The Boy Scouts have no equal to it for either girls or boys. This pinpoints a major advantage which the Girl Scouts over most of the past century have zealously exploited. They have put their organization in the forefront of the feminist cause. It is from the goals and methods of the feminist movement that the Girl Scouts have drawn upon. The Boy Scouts couldn’t do this. There is no such thing as a “masculinist” movement.

But what they might do, among much else, is teach young men to stand defiantly against the storm of current cultural and intellectual fashion. Above all, to teach them that “what most people think” must not be regarded as infallible. When “everybody’s-doing-it,” that may be a reason to do it too. Or it may be a reason not to do it. In other words, don’t decide to do something just because it’s popular. There is a famous exchange between two great American figures of the last century– President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. It went like this:

Roosevelt: “Why don’t we move our Turkish embassy from Istanbul to Ankara? Everybody else is.”

Hull: “That’s the best reason I know.”


The In-Crowd: “Why don’t we offer our kids condoms at this Scout Jamboree? Everybody else does.”

The Out-Crowd: “That’s the best reason we know.”

When you find you see things one way and the world sees them another, there are two things you need do. One is to think out as coolly and as rationally as you can what the issues really are. and what is the right thing to do. The other, if you are a believing person, is to ask God to lighten your path, so you can see where you’re going.


Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century, a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.

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