Could the Boy Scouts of America's decision to accept gay leaders hasten the exodus of troops sponsored by conservative religious groups?
Could traditional believers who maintain ties with the Boy Scouts face lawsuits if they limit scoutmaster roles to heterosexuals?
Those questions gain prominence in the aftermath of Monday's big vote:
The New York Times' latest lede is simple and to the point:
The Boy Scouts of America on Monday ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
But the new policy allows church-sponsored units to choose local unit leaders who share their precepts, even if that means restricting such positions to heterosexual men.
Despite this compromise, the Mormon Church said it might leave the organization anyway. Its stance surprised many and raised questions about whether other conservative sponsors, including the Roman Catholic Church, might follow suit.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote,” said a statement issued by the church moments after the Scouts announced the new policy. “When the leadership of the church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with scouting will need to be examined.”
Correction: July 27, 2015
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the Mormon church’s view of a new Boy Scouts policy on gay adult leaders. The church said it was “deeply troubled” by the policy; there is no evidence that it had privately agreed to the change.
Even before the vote was officially announced, Religion News Service's Adelle Banks was all over the potential legal implications:
As Banks' stories always do, this one reflects voices on all sides:
Prior to the vote, BSA officials predicted it would be “unlikely” that troops based at churches would end up in court if they ban gay Scoutmasters.
“We live in a litigious society, and frivolous lawsuits are threatened and filed every day,” reads the 14-page memo from the Boys Scouts’ law firm, Hughes Hubbard & Reed. “However, any lawsuit challenging the religious requirements in a Scouting unit chartered by a religious organization would be unlikely to succeed or even make much progress.”
R. Chip Turner, national chairman of the BSA Religious Relationships Committee, said he hopes the memo will calm concerns that leaders of religious chartered Scout units may have.
“There’s always the fear of the unknown,” he said.
But opponents of a BSA policy change say church-based troops that reject gay adult leaders could face legal risks, especially after the recent Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is legal nationwide.
“What they’re not taking into account is the new frontier that we’re on, where judges are being social change agents,” said John Stemberger, chairman of Trail Life USA, which bills itself as a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts.
Trail Life issued its own eight-page legal memo, written by a former BSA lawyer who is now Trail Life’s general counsel.
“The church-chartered troop will likely be sued the moment it tries to revoke the membership of the homosexual member who wears his uniform to the Gay Pride Parade, revokes or denies membership to an adult who publicly gets married to someone of the same sex, or denies membership to the girl who believes she is actually a male,” the Trail Life memo reads.
A story by Godbeat pro Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post also delves into the legal arena:
The Post quotes Douglas Laycock, a religious liberty scholar at the University of Virginia:
Laycock said it’s not clear what will happen over the long-term in court. No states, he said, have bans on discriminating against gay people for volunteers. And about half the states do not have employment discrimination bans.
It’s also unclear how these changes will play out in the years to come, as some conservative leaders say like-minded troops are moving away from the Scouts. Roger Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, said traditional groups are braced for the possibility that soon, even church-based groups will be required to fully accept gay leaders.
“The next step, which may be a year or two down the road, seems obvious to us,” Oldham wrote. Traditional groups “are being put into a situation where they have to either compromise their conviction or choose to leave. And for those for whom Biblical sexual morality is a conviction they have no alternative,” he said.
At the Times, go-to Baptist quotester Russell D. Moore weighs in:
More departures by religious conservatives are likely, said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mr. Moore expressed skepticism about the Scouts’ promise to let church-sponsored units exclude gay leaders on religious grounds.
”After the Scouts’ shift on membership, they told religious groups this wouldn’t affect leadership,” he said. “Now churches are told that these changes will not affect faith-based groups. Churches know that this is the final word only until the next evolution.”
Watch the dominoes, journalists.