Although the Boy Scouts of America has been offering co-ed options for Exploring and Venturing programs since 1971, the BSA’s new decision to invite girls to join Cub Scout packs (ages 6-11) and to earn the Eagle Scout Award in a new older girls program (ages 11-18) has caused mixed reactions within every group/organization.
Among Catholics, there’s a spectrum of responses to the new policy from happy acceptance and applaud to outrage and dropping out of the organization. Leaders of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, however, are of those who welcome the change.
In a public statement, George Sparks, the National Catholic Committee’s chairman and chaplain, said that the organization had no objection to BSA’s decision to allow girls into traditional packs and troops because a majority of the Catholic youth-ministry programs are already coed.
“The National Catholic Committee on Scouting seeks to sustain and strengthen the relationship between the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church,” commented Sparks and Fr. Kevin Smith- a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre- in an article titled Catholics Mixed on Boy Scouts’ Move to ‘Family Scouting’ Model by the National Catholic Reporter.
In the article Sparks also said that he agrees with the BSA’s idea of creating a “family model” of Scouting since the goal of each youth-ministry program in the Church is to reach out and engage all youth. Sparks says in the article:
“They’ve [BSA] found there’s a great desire to have girls getting the same kind of activities and leadership development available to them,” Sparks said. He added that the Church will also have an opportunity to form girls who enter into the program with the religious training they already provide Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.”
According to Gary Thome, the charter organization representative at a large Catholic parish in Houston, the Scouting program is a hugely influential program that helps build the moral character of their youth and helps them grow in their faith and he agrees with the new changes. In the same article he says:
“First, they [the BSA] want to provide a character formation program for girls. Second, they want to be family-friendly and allow families to have boys and girls activities at the same time and place,” he said.
In his parish, Thome has already started accommodating to the girls who have desired a similar Scouting program by adding an American Heritage Girls troop, which is a Christian-based program that serves girls ages 5-18 and meets at the same time as the Cub Scouts in order to be convenient for families’ schedules.
Some Say Add Girls, But Keep Separate
While Thome agrees with the BSA’s inclusion of girls, his one stipulation is that the BSA keeps the boys and girls program separate.
“Boys and girls lead differently, follow directions differently and express their emotions differently,” he said in the article.
Educational specialists like Bill Donaghy, a curriculum specialist at the Theology of the Body Institute, also agree that the program must stay separate and different, catering to both boys and girls. In the article, he told the Register that he would be concerned if BSA did not adapt its educational program for girls. He strongly believes that boys and girls have complementary differences and strengths, not just on a physiological level, but on a psychological, emotional and social level as well, and their formation has to take that into account.
“Education is meant to draw these great mysteries out and to be attentive and speak to that difference,” he said in the article. He does not agree, however, with how some are choosing and fighting to treat males and females exactly the same, even interchangeably.
The good thing is, whatever an organization desires to do- whether they want or believe that their Scouting programs should be co-ed or separate- each organization has the right to make that decision in order to best meet the needs of their own youth. The BSA is not mandating co-ed programs, but leaving it up to each group to decide.
The BSA said existing Cub Scout packs with their sponsoring organizations may choose to do any of the three options: establish a parallel all-girls pack, establish a coed pack of single-gender girl dens and boy dens, or remain an all-boy pack. Starting in 2018, families will be able to sign up both their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts which will endorse the “family model” of Scouting.
Why Some Don’t Agree
Despite the positivity of including girls and allowing them to benefit from the program just as boys do and the support from Catholic leaders and committees, there are still many critics of the BSA’s decision in the Church.
In the National Catholic’s Register’s article, Margaret DeMarco, a Catholic mother of five in Canandaigua, New York, said the BSA’s decision to admit girls into its traditional all-boy programs had discouraged her from considering the Cub and Boy Scout programs.
“There’s no way on earth that I can put them in an organization that can’t understand what its name means,” she said.
DeMarco said girls already have the option of joining Girl Scouts, an entirely girl organization. Telling girls they should “join the Boy Scouts as a girl” did not seem to be a message of female empowerment, she said. With the BSA’s past changes, DeMarco is worried the BSA is just following cultural trends and not standing up for the fact that boys and girls are different.
“Our culture talks about celebrating differences,” she said. “We’re supposed to all do that. Well, why don’t we start with the very basic difference between male and female, instead of saying that for a woman to be empowered she needs to join a man’s organization?”
Why Many Support BSA’s Decision
Despite the many speculations as to why the BSA has added girls, the main reason is the main push from its own members to add girls. According to surveys the BSA conducted, 90 percent of parents not involved with the BSA expressed interest in getting their daughter involved in programs like Cub Scouts and 87 percent of parents not involved with the BSA expressed interest in getting their daughter involved in programs like Boy Scouts. On top of the surveys taken from nonmembers, the BSA’s own members have been requesting and petitioning to add girls for years. It’s not a political or culture issue, the BSA is simply deciding to be inclusive and responding to the request of thousands of requests to add girls.
The fact is that Girls Scouts is a great option for girls, but it doesn’t fit the needs or desires of every single girl. In a PBS.org article, a girl named Ireland explained:
“I cannot change my gender to fit the Boy Scouts’ standards, but the Boy Scouts can change their standards to include me. I am determined to be an Eagle Scout. It isn’t just a hobby, it’s access to some of the best leadership training there is,” she wrote. “Unfortunately for me and half the country’s population, we are excluded from most of these amazing opportunities for no reason other than that we are female. That’s why I’m calling on the BSA to end the discriminatory ban against young women and girls, and allow all children to participate in the Boy Scouts and earn the Eagle Rank.”
Additionally, In a Washington Post article, Ilana Knab says her daughters have been participating in local programs, earning the highest rank a girl can receive, the Ranger award but want their Eagle too. Her daughters could have participated in Girl Scouts, but they wanted to participate in the activities they saw their brothers doing and have desired to have the same recognition as their brothers who were able to earn the Eagle Scout award. Ilana and her daughters know that attaining the status of Eagle Scout is considered a badge of honor that is recognized beyond the organization and can help participants get into colleges and open the door to certain scholarships.
“Eagle Scout gets them somewhere on their resume,” Illana’s daughter said. “It will be amazing to say you got Eagle and people know what you’re talking about and know the work you put into it.”
Like Illana’s daughter, many people on Twitter are happy about girls having the choice between Girl Scouts and the BSA.
Options Are Good
Options offer opportunities. Restrictions take away and prohibit personal choices. An organization that lifts its mandatory policies in order to allow its members to individually decide what is right for its family sounds like an organization that stands for freedom and democracy more than anything else. Each church, youth-program, family, etc., each has the choice to decide whether this change affects them positively- allowing their girls to do things they couldn’t before, or to decide they want the same model as before- no changes. BSA is just saying they are not going to deliberately say no to girls anymore- they’re saying power to the people- you decide.