In my last prep school teaching year I offered a senior elective about several historically important issues that have come before the Supreme Court. Needless to say, 1973's Roe v. Wade stirred interest as did the cases from the early 1900s that challenged Paramount Studios' near-total control of film production and distribution before and at the cusp of Hollywood's 'Golden Age'.
Too, we considered the famous early 1960s public school bible-reading cases, including Schempp v. Abington (PA) School Board. I needn't have shared with the class (though I did) the pride I felt discussing the case's history, given that my dad who, as then General Counsel to the Philadelphia American Civil Liberties Union, helped bring that case to court. I don't believe it impeded our full consideration of all sides of the issue(s).
Our class also took up numbers of speech and publishing controversies.
Perhaps the case my students found most engaging was the 5-4 case overturning in 2000 the New Jersey's Supreme Court ruling requiring the Boy Scouts of America, because it is, in New Jersey's view, not only a private organization but a public accommodation, to welcome gay scouts and scout masters. In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the Supreme Court said that despite the state's anti-dscrimination laws, the BSA may exclude gays.
Perhaps because my students were at an age when they could readily swap places, if you will, with the young people whose lives were affected by that decision, and also because issues centering on gay and straight kids were not quite yet commonplace in classrooms, this was the most compelling set of discussions I recall us having. The back-and-forth was thoughtful and never one-sided despite my making clear my sense of it all.
That Court decision remains unchallenged and yet the Boy Scouts of America has an apparent need, maybe because it senses the attitudinal shift toward greater openness and acceptance that has marked these past twelve years, to reinforce its bigoted position. For two years a BSA board committee has, the organization says, revisited the issue and now reaffirms its discriminatory ban.
As the 'New York Times' last week pointed out, while the BSA is a private organization, the orgization has a United States congressional charter and the public "has an interest in its decisions...[and Congress, thus] has...implicitly endorsed" the BSA's discrimination. President Obama should condemn this as un-American. In 1994, running against the late Edward Kennedy for Senate, Mitt Romney, the newspaper reminds us, explicitly called on the Boy Scouts to drop its gay ban. You and I know that he speaks from convenience and won't touch this now.
Since the Court's upholding of the BSA's bigotry, alternative organizations have sprung up nationwide, including Navigators USA. It is coed and does not bar children or leaders based on sexual orientation. (Neither, to its credit, does the Girls Scouts of America.) And while ths isn't the piece for it, I'll address another time the nonsense that identifies gay male adults with child molestation.
I'll say here, with Navigators USA Executive Director, Robin Bossert, that the BSA "does not own Scouting" and that all youth, all families who want the scouting experience, ought to be able to have it absent ignorance and prejudice.
Given the changes in American cultural and political life since I taught my last seniors, as often conflicted and compromised as those changes have been and are, I'd dearly love to have that last class back now for just one more day.