By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — As far as Reform Jewish leaders are concerned, the Boy Scouts of America are back.
The BSA’s National Executive Board announced July 27 it was lifting the restrictions on openly gay adults as Scout leaders and employees. As a result on Aug. 5, Reform Jewish leaders lifted their 14-year resolution against synagogues having Boy Scouts troops.
“While some are still unhappy with the (Boy Scouts of America) position, I personally think their current stance is politically brilliant,” said Stephen Shore, chairman of the Dallas Jewish Committee on Scouting and past president of the Temple Emanu-El Brotherhood, the charter organization of Boy Scout Troop 729 in Dallas.
In 2001, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism recommended nearly 300 Reform synagogues that sponsored or hosted Boy Scouts troops cut ties with the BSA, shortly after the United States Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to ban gay employees. The Religious Action Center — an advocacy group governed by the Commission on Social Action — announced that the “vast majority” of American Reform synagogues adhered to their recommendation by disassociating from Scout troops.
Shore — who has been involved in both the history of Scouting at Emanu-El and Jewish Scouting nationally for some time — said he was the one who provided the Religious Action Center with the documents upon which they made their decision to re-associate.
“Others had actually given the same information to the RAC previously but had not given them copies of the actual BSA released documents,” he said.
However, Shore pointed out, this is a great start but all is not completely well right now. Shore pointed out the commission still is not happy the BSA will continue to allow individual religious institutions that sponsor Boy Scout troops to refuse to hire LGBT employees. (According to the commission, 71.5 percent of all troops are chartered by faith-based organizations.)
Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El agreed.
“The decision by the BSA is an important step forward in the ongoing movement for civil rights for our LGBT brothers and sisters. On a journey not yet over, this is an important milestone, and we applaud the progress of the BSA on this issue.”
For the nearly 100-year-old Troop 729 (established in 1918), this will be a time of new beginnings, Shore said.
“There are no new Scouts coming in,” Shore said. “We will resuscitate our group, but it will have to be as a Cub Scout pack first.”
But this action is definitely a sign of the times, Shore added.
“Look at the marriage equality issue a few months ago — it didn’t seem like the Supreme Court was coming down on the current side of that issue,” Shore said.”If someone had brought this before the Supreme Court in 1950, would they even have taken the case? Things change.”
The BSA applauded the lifting of the URJ resolution.
“As we are with all of our chartered organizations, we’re thankful for their support,” Deron Smith, director of public relations for the Boy Scouts of America, said in a statement. “America’s youth are better off when they are in Scouting, and the Boy Scouts of America is successful because of its relationships with valued chartered organizations that help make our programs possible. Moving forward, we will continue to work together to reach and serve youth, helping them grow into good, strong citizens.”
Meanwhile, Rabbi Yaakov Rich of Congregation Toras Chaim, which chartered Boy Scout Troop 620 — a Shomer Shabbos troop — said his group’s scouts and employees have never been nor will ever be discriminated against because of sexual orientation.
Rabbi Rich said Scouts and adults with Troop 620 are expected to keep Shabbat while doing activities on Shabbat, to keep kosher while participating in activities, and to follow BSA policy which prohibits sexual activity of any sort while participating in troop activities.
“That is not an issue,” he said. “We look for people who are great examples of human beings and leaders others can look up to.”