Over the weekend I finished reading Texas Governor Rick Perry’s book, On My Honor. The book discusses what the Boy Scouts of America means to him and to other men that he knows. Some of these men were boys in the troop of which Perry was a member during his boyhood in rural Texas. Others are notable figures, such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, hotel magnate J. Willard Marriott Jr., and Capt. James Lovell of Apollo 13 fame, all of whom are Eagle Scouts.

A number of the men mentioned by Perry (not all are listed above) are not strangers to controversy. Perry himself should bear some scrutiny over his handling of the FLDS situation in his state.

As one of my parent’s five Eagle Scout sons, and having two Eagle Scout sons myself (and hopefully two more on the way), I was interested in reading this book. Perry discusses the history of the Scouting movement and of the BSA in particular in chapter 4. He also discusses how the 4-million member BSA functions and is organized. Chapter 9, which delves into accounts of Scouting heroism, is worth reading on its own.

In chapters 2, 3, and 8 Perry writes both generally and specifically about Scouting values. It is here that he presents why he believes the BSA is such an important and valuable organization. The BSA doesn’t create perfect citizens. While there are many great men among the 1.7 million that have earned the Eagle Scout rank, there are also a number that are infamous (see list). But the BSA does create leaders, and it engenders a culture of service, respect, accomplishment, and self-reliance.

Lawyer Wars
The remaining chapters (1, 4-7, 11, and 12) are devoted to the central thesis of Perry’s book: the culture wars, and especially the specific attacks by the Left on the BSA. Perry documents the various legal challenges that have been repeatedly brought against the BSA and notes how the Left is pursuing its agenda of forcing the BSA to accept the Left’s view of morality.

First came challenges to the BSA’s policy of only admitting young men to its programs for 7-14-year-olds. Each of these was rebuffed by the courts. (The BSA has long allowed young women ages 14-21 to participate in its Explorer and Venture programs.) Then came challenges to the BSA’s requirement that members believe in and reverence God. These were likewise turned back.

Next came objections to the BSA’s policy against admitting homosexual activists to its ranks. Perry explains that the BSA policy is akin to the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. The Boy Scouts is not designed to be about sexuality. It doesn’t want adults bringing sexuality of any kind into troop meetings. But when someone creates their identity around sexual activism, such cannot be avoided. Thus, sexual orientation activists are not permitted to join. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the BSA was within its rights to exclude homosexual activists from its ranks.

While the BSA does not go out of its way to find out about any member’s sexual orientation, it does go out of its way to exclude known abusers from its ranks. To become an adult volunteer, you must give the BSA your social security number, your driver license number, and permission to do a background check. If you have a record of any kind of abuse (or of other serious problems), you will not be permitted to join.

Even with these kinds of precautions, abusers still manage to get into the ranks of the BSA. A few years ago, the BSA became aware that the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which “advocates the legalization of sexual relations between adult males and under-aged boys,” was distributing information about how to infiltrate the BSA (plus little league and other youth programs) undetected, as well as specific instructions about how to get away with raping boys.

Unable to beat the BSA legally after decades of assaults, the Left has now turned to trying to get governmental entities to deny the BSA access to various public venues, from military bases to buildings to campgrounds. The results have been a mixed bag, with the Left winning some and the BSA winning some. All of this legal wrangling has been very expensive for the BSA. If the Leftists can’t beat them legally, at least they can make them bleed money through continual legal challenges, regardless of their merit.

Perry wonders why the Leftists are so opposed to allowing the BSA to operate according to its own desires. Why try to remake the BSA in their own image? Why not simply start their own youth organization that has all of the features they so much desire?

Scouting Values
In chapter 10, Perry goes through studies done in 1995 and 2005 that compare various values among people that have been members of the BSA under five years, those that have been members over four years, and those that have never been members. The results are about what might be expected between the three groups. While the long-time Scouters almost always come out on top, there has been some overall decline in all groups over the decade. Still, the vast majority of Americans, even those that have never had anything to do with the BSA, align themselves with the values espoused by the BSA.

In chapters 11 and 12, Perry gives his personal interpretation of what all of this means. He includes political as well as religious interpretations. He worries that the U.S. has been tranquilized by its affluence, and that this will have both moral and economic impacts.

“If we believe our technology, firepower, and educational attainment will save us from licentiousness, godlessness, and undisciplined living, we bet on a losing proposition according to the history of civilization (Rome, Greece, Babylon, to name a few). Sure, prior empires did not have access to weapons that could annihilate mankind from the face of the earth. But it won’t take a military invasion to remove us from our perch atop the world: only our wandering into a moral wilderness of indifference.”
Since he is governor of our largest border state, it was not surprising to see Perry soft peddle immigration issues. Of Hispanic immigrants, he writes, “I see a population that is largely law-abiding, aspiring to be upwardly mobile, and hungry … for an opportunity to provide a good life for their family. … We are better off for what they bring to the table.” While we do need immigrants that become real Americans, I can only assume that Perry doesn’t see the disproportionately large number of illegal immigrants that make up our prison population.

I was surprised that Perry never mentioned in his book that Learning for Life is a subsidiary of the BSA. This 1.8 million member organization “utilizes programs designed for schools and community-based organizations ... to prepare youth ... for the complexities of contemporary society and to enhance their self-confidence, motivation, and self-esteem.” This program works with many inner city youth. It doesn’t have the structure, uniforms, and insignia of regular BSA programs, nor does it have religious belief or sexual orientation requirements.

Having been a member of the BSA since age eight, I appreciated Perry’s discussion of Scouting values. In chapter 8 he addresses the 12 points of the Scout Law. However, I was disappointed in his brief take on reverence. Of this point, the Scout Handbook says, “A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.” Although Perry makes his Christian belief clear throughout his book, when he writes about reverence, he writes only about respecting “people in positions of authority.” I’m sorry, but saying, “Yes sir, Mr. Governor” is very unlike praying, “Help me to know and do thy will, O God.”

Perry does make a significant point about respecting the beliefs of others. Not only does he point out the Left’s intolerance for those whose opinions differ from theirs, but he claims society benefits by protecting the BSA’s right to espouse its values.

“I do not advocate state-sponsored morality in the most general sense, but I do argue for the protection of organizations and entities whose influence on American values have been profoundly positive. And I do argue that we continue to make the case to our fellow citizens about the virtue of making right choices, while recognizing in a free society people must ultimately have the prerogative to make wrong choices.”
Finally, Perry expresses faith in the values held by the American middle class. He writes, “I believe Scouting will survive as long as it sticks to the virtues and values of the great middle class.” He qualifies this by adding, “… if those values are not replaced by a culture of licentiousness.”

I appreciate the fact that Gov. Perry wrote this book. It explains the whys and hows of Scouting. It especially explains why Scouting values are worth fighting for. Given that some of the Left see the BSA as the enemy, the BSA can expect to continue to have to fight for those values.
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