Open Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

Michael B. Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive
National Boy Scouts of America Council
P.O. Box 152079
Irving, TX 75015–2079

July 26, 2017

Dear Mr. Surbaugh,

I am a Webelos den leader for Pack [XXX] in [XXXXXXXX], [XXXXXXXX]. My younger son is a Webelos Scout, and my older son graduated into Boy Scouts last year and has advanced to Tenderfoot. In addition, I myself was a Cub Scout and earned my Arrow of Light, and I advanced to Life Rank in Boy Scouts. Allow me to begin by saying that although I am a Scout leader, I do not speak for my den or my pack, and the opinions I convey here are mine and mine alone.

I am beyond disgusted at the speech President Trump delivered to this year’s Boy Scout Jamboree. Any decent human being should be. I read the details of his words with despair that these youngsters, who came to the Jamboree to celebrate Scouting, were instead subject to such hate-filled rhetoric and empty self-aggrandizement. The number of offensive comments and actions are too numerous to list in one place and have been already well reported in the news. Suffice it to say that during the course of his speech, Mr. Trump managed to break every single point of the Scout Law.

However, as appalled as I am at his obscene behavior, I am even more disappointed at the Boy Scouts of America’s utter silence on the matter.

The fact that you had to warn attendees ahead of time to refrain from behavior seen during his rallies on your Jamboree blog proves that you knew exactly what to expect from his presence, and it astounds me that you would even consider him to be a suitable role model of leadership for young Scouts, tradition or no. For many of these future leaders, Mr. Trump’s despicable homage to himself may very well be the only president they will ever see in person. It is sad to imagine that, unless the BSA leadership acts now, they will be left with the belief that such behavior is acceptable standard practice from people in positions of authority. How can you demand that the Jamboree attendees “are respectful of the president,” as requested on the Jamboree blog, yet the man for whom you demand it refuses to offer that same respect to his predecessor?

Take a moment to imagine what Scouting would be like if all the Senior Patrol Leaders, Patrol Leaders, and other positions of responsibility got into their heads that Mr. Trump’s belligerent, belittling, bemoaning attitude was an acceptable way to lead. Do you want Patrol Leaders disparaging their predecessors and blaming them for current challenges? Do you want SPLs singling out other Scouts who disagree with them and riling up the rest of the troop against them? Do you want Scouting to be based on the values you believed in enough to emphasize on your Jamboree blog — “friendly, courteous, kind” — or do you want it to be inundated with the rancor and hostility revealed during the president’s speech?

Although I have disagreed — and still disagree — with some of the BSA’s policies, I still encouraged my sons to participate in Scouting because it remains a worthwhile adventure for young boys, a chance for them to take responsibility for themselves and discover the kind of adult they want to be. In fact, based largely on my family’s exhortation, a close friend of my older son just decided to join Boy Scouts this week. However, after BSA’s failure to condemn Mr. Trump’s complete lack of respect for anything that does not end with “Trump,” I am left wondering how I can possibly continue to recommend Scouting for others.

The BSA’s only response to date, claiming that the organization is “wholly nonpartisan,” is wholly inadequate. “Nonpartisan” means more than refraining from favoring any one candidate or party or philosophy. It means holding all people to the same standards, including our leaders. Calling out the president’s behavior as unacceptable is not a partisan issue; his words should be abhorrent to both sides of the aisle. If you fail to denounce his actions, then you make it a partisan issue because you do so out of fear… fear of a very small but very loud — and very partisan — sect of our population. Remaining silent will only propagate the wink-and-nod approval that has become a commonplace reaction to his poisonous conduct.

While I agree that we should, as you say, have “respect for the Office of the President of the United States,” that respect should not come at the expense of our core values. And when the man holding that office refuses to have respect for his own position or the people of this country he was elected to serve, then it is respect for that office that demands our action.

I therefore urge the BSA to set a better example for its Scouts, to come forward and emphasize, in no uncertain terms, that the speech given by Mr. Trump did not reflect the values of the BSA. That the BSA does not condone disparaging other people who disagree, spreading falsehoods, or holding oneself to be greater than others. This is the only way to get the message across to today’s Scouts that his actions are not representative of what we expect from our leaders.

I realize this is not an easy thing to do, but may I direct you to the tenth point of the Scout Law: A Scout is Brave. It takes courage to stand up for what is right. The BSA can choose to either be a passive onlooker to the darkness our country faces, or it can be a part of the solution and continue its mission: “to prepare young people to make ethical choices over their lifetime by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” I can think of no better way to teach these values than to live by them and demonstrate them ourselves.



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