School Choice & Charters

Private Schools Urged To Rethink Boy Scout Links

By Catherine Gewertz — December 06, 2000 3 min read
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An association that includes some of the most respected private schools in the country is urging its members to re-evaluate their sponsorship of Boy Scout troops because it believes the organization’s exclusion of homosexuals is unfair.

In a statement issued Nov. 21, the National Association of Independent Schools recommended that its 1,000 member schools question whether the scouting organization’s stand is consistent with their own principles and those of the NAIS.

“The Boy Scouts of America’s stand on sexual orientation is inconsistent with the mission of the National Association of Independent Schools and its Principles of Good Practice for Equity and Justice,” the statement read. “NAIS urges schools to examine their relationships with local Boy Scout chapters in light of these principles and their own mission statements.”

The Washington-based NAIS, whose members include such prominent prep schools as Phillips Academy and Groton School, suggested that schools consider such factors as whether the Boy Scout chapters that use their facilities have disavowed the stance of the national group.

In the wake of a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming the Scouts’ right to bar gay members under its right of “expressive association,” some public schools and districts have withdrawn support in various forms, but the NAIS statement is believed to be the first such response from a private school organization. (“Scouts’ Ban on Gays Is Prompting Schools To Reconsider Ties,” Oct. 25, 2000.)

Peter D. Relic, the NAIS’ president, said the group’s board of directors drafted the statement after hearing that a number of private school administrators were wrestling with how they should reconcile the Boy Scouts’ policy with their own mission statements, and with NAIS’ own guidelines, which require members to abide by nondiscrimination policies and practices.

The headmaster of Breck School, a private, Episcopal school of 1,200 students in Minneapolis, sent a letter earlier this year to parents saying the school had “no other choice” but to discontinue its long-standing sponsorship of Boy Scout troops because the national organization’s “policy of exclusion is in direct conflict” with the 104-year-old school’s “fundamental values of diversity and inclusion.” How broad an impact the NAIS’ statement would have was unclear, both because its members represent only a small portion of the country’s 27,000 private schools and because the overwhelming majority of Scout troops are not chartered by schools, public or private.

According to Gregg Shields, a spokesman for the Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts of America, 65 percent of the nation’s 100,000 Scout troops are sponsored by religious organizations. And many of those faith-based groups find their beliefs to be in harmony with the moral convictions that undergird the Boy Scouts’ policy.

Shields said the Boy Scouts had “tremendous support” from private and religious schools.

‘Religious-Liberty Issue’

Officials of the Council for American Private Education, a Germantown, Md.-based nonprofit organization that represents a variety of private school groups, including many religious school groups, said they had no plans to discourage their members from participating in the Boy Scouts.

Interviews with representatives of various religious school groups found no broad-based support for terminating Boy Scout charters. And some national religious organizations that have articulated beliefs of inclusion that encompass sexual orientation, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, choose as a matter of policy to allow their individual schools to decide such issues for themselves.

The leader of one of the largest and fastest-growing religious school groups, the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Association of Christian Schools International, said the Boy Scouts’ stand aligns with his group’s beliefs not only morally but as they apply to the right to operate independent schools.

“We believe that organizations like ours should have theright to, in essence, discriminate based upon those religious convictions,” said Ken Smitherman, the association’s president. “That’s a protection we hold pretty dear for our member schools when it comes to things like hiring for our faculty and staff. For us, it’s a religious-liberty issue.”

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A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2000 edition of Education Week as Private Schools Urged To Rethink Boy Scout Links

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