The Story: The Boy Scouts of America is considering changing its longstanding national membership restrictions based on sexual orientation. The new proposal would allow the religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units to decide for themselves how to address the issue of whether to exclude or include openly homosexual young men as Scouts.

The Background: Since it’s inception 103 years ago, the Boy Scouts has excluded both homosexuals and atheists. (Spokesman Deron Smith said a change in the policy toward atheists was not being considered, and that the BSA continued to view “Duty to God” as one of its basic principles.) The Scout have been pressured to change the policy by gay rights groups, corporate sponsors, and even the President of the United States.

According to Baptist Press, the Boy Scouts released a statement just six months agostanding by the ban, saying a “majority of our membership” agrees with the policy and that the “vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their rights to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers, and at the appropriate time and in the right setting.”

The Boy Scouts released a new statement Monday describing the proposal, saying that the national policy would be rescinded in favor of a policy allowing local councils to determine their own policy. Scouting officials will take up the matter at next week’s scheduled national Board meeting.

Why It Matters: The Scouting oath begins by saying, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country” and concludes with a pledge to stay “morally straight.” Allowing openly homosexual members and leaders would show young men that the Boy Scouts put political correctness ahead of their own commitment to moral principles.

“The goal or aim of Scouting is to instill in youth the ability to make moral and ethical decisions over a lifetime by a careful application of the Scout Oath and Law,” says Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. “However, this move appears to fly in the face of both the Scout Oath and Law.”

Currently about 70 percent of all Scouting units are owned and operated by faith-based organizations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leads all faith-based organizations with 38,000 units (and 420,000 participating youth), followed by the United Methodists (11,000 units; 371,000 youth), the Catholic Church (8,570; 283,000), and Southern Baptists (4,100; 109,000). Many of these churches may discontinue their support since it will open them to discrimination lawsuits.

Matthew J. Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, says that churches will be right to discontinue the affiliation:

For it will only be a matter of time before the Boy Scouts of America will pronounce itself in favor of same-sex marriage; will adopt instructional materials, mandatory in all troops, on the compulsory acceptance, by all members and leaders, of homosexual relations as normal and normative; and will move to silence all dissent from the new orthodoxy by boys, parents, troop leaders, and sponsoring organizations. The Scouts, in short, will rapidly become, from the top down, a national pro-gay organization, local control be damned.