Scouting has been built by the mostly volunteer labor of parents and other interested adults who have formed troops attached to many different non-profit service organizations (The Scouts and gays," Feb. 4).

While religious institutions may constitute a majority of the sponsoring groups, Scouting was and remains, when done according to the Baden-Powell spirit, non-sectarian, non-religious and primarily devoted to civic service.

The Scout Law declares only that a scout is reverent; your op-ed writer, Patrick Boyle, has added his own "to God." Churches may be using Scouting to inculcate their particular beliefs, but that is not what Scouting is all about.

Scouting is a program for boys and young men that teaches self-reliance based on learned and proven skills in a wide variety of fields, especially camping, hiking, water activities and cooperation with a bit of rivalry mixed in.

In terms of mental skills, Scouts must demonstrate a knowledge of citizenship in local, national and international settings. In the merit badge program, Scouts learn science, technologies and hobbies as well as business and economics.

In weekly meetings and camping outings, Scouts learn to get along with one another and how to bear responsibility for leading others. They make friends and are befriended by each other and by adults who are neither teachers nor parents.

What Scouting is not is a place where young people and their leaders are scrutinized for sexual, religious or ideological purity.

Scouting has developed good programs for troop leaders, particularly for avoiding sexual situations and protecting youngsters. The rule of three, for example, is drilled into prospective leaders: One may never be alone with a Scout one-on-one; there must always be at least two adults with a Scout or at least one adult when two Scouts are together.

As a troop committee chairman for almost eight years and a committeeman for more, my large troop never encountered a problem involving the sexuality of anyone involved in our operations. We did not question our Scouts or leaders about their sexuality at all.

Scouting is for young males who are in their most insecure years, where they are most unsure of who they are and what they stand for. We adult leaders help our Scouts to learn how to be competent, knowledgeable and useful in the larger society, and while learning these skills, they discover who they are and where their strengths lie.

Scouting has been a successful franchise operation that has always accorded each troop a large degree of autonomy in its operations. And thus it should remain — not an organization ruled in hierarchical fashion from a national center, but by each troop, helped by other troops in its district and brought together by history and the Boy Scout Handbook.

Mary Dagold

The writer is a former committee chairman of Boy Scouts of America Troop 97.

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