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Saturday, December 10, 2016

There was a time, many years ago, when the Boy Scouts of America took a courageous stand in the face of bigotry.

For years, the Scouts had awarded a badge of honor bearing a swastika. It was called the Thanks Badge, meant to reward kindness. For centuries, the swastika was known only as an ancient symbol of well-being.

Then, in 1933, Adolf Hitler co-opted the swastika, declaring it the official Nazi symbol. The next year, the Boys Scouts dropped the swastika from their badge. In 1936, the Scouts announced that anyone who had been awarded the old badge could swap it for the new one.

I first wrote about this in 2002, praising the Scouts’ willingness to change, in contrast to those Americans who still insisted on displaying the Confederate flag, forever a symbol of one of the ugliest periods in U.S. history.

How I wish the Boy Scouts of America’s leadership of today could summon the same courage, the same commitment to justice.

Two years ago, under public pressure, the BSA assembled a committee of 11 “volunteers and professional leaders” to examine its policy of barring open gay Scouts and gay or lesbian adults from serving as leaders. In July of this year, the Scouts’ executive committee announced that this committee had affirmed this practice of discrimination.

The Scouts refused to disclose details about the process or the names of those who served on the committee. Think of it as the Boy Scouts version of a super PAC: You can promote bigotry, without fear of anyone’s knowing your name.

In a news release, BSA insisted that its policy to exclude gay boys and adults “reflects the beliefs and perspectives” of the organization.

“While a majority of our membership agrees with our policy, we fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society,” said then-Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca, who has since retired.

The Girl Scouts, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Four-H Club and even the U.S. military now forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Boy Scouts seemed to think that those who don’t agree with the policy would nevertheless defer to its stop-secret panel of prejudice.

The BSA’s hope, it appears, was that the pesky discontents would take their protests elsewhere.

And that’s exactly what is happening.