A renewed effort by several members of the American Library Association’s governing council would sever all ties with the Boy Scouts of America until the youth organization stops “discriminating” against avowed atheists and homosexuals.
In 1998, the council of the ALA, the world’s largest library organization, condemned the Boy Scouts over its policies, but a WorldNetDaily investigation reveals activists quietly are planning to take action at the association’s annual convention in June.
The renewed effort is led by Mark Rosenzweig, formerly an official archivist with the U.S. Communist Party and a chief defender of Fidel Castro in the ALA controversy over the communist regime’s repression of the independent library movement in Cuba, reported by WorldNetDaily .
“It is scary that an organization which purports to believe in free speech and intellectual freedom would take this kind of action,” said BSA spokesman Bob Bork. “It is a Soviet-style effort to make us a non-person.”
Rosenzweig unveiled his proposal April 9 on the ALA council e-mail list, declaring, “I am tired of seeing Council pass resolutions which like the previous one on the BSA are never monitored or reported back upon and for which no one takes responsibility.”
He was referring to a 1999 ALA resolution, which read: “That the American Library Association urges the Boy Scouts of America to reconsider their policy of discrimination in the areas of sexual orientation and religious belief and demonstrate a commitment to human rights, inclusiveness, and mutual respect.”
The BSA’s Bork responded: “How could they show such utter disregard to the First Amendment rights of any organization? We have the same rights of freedom of association as the ALA and it is disgusting to think they would disrespect those rights.”
Michael Golrick, an ALA council member and city librarian for Bridgeport, Ct., told WND he believes the resolution “will accomplish exactly what the last one did: No changes in BSA policies, and irritated librarians who hold views not shared by the radical left.”
Golrick was one of the few council members to publicly object to the 1999 resolution. He wore his Scout uniform to the meeting, prompting ridicule from John Berry III, editor of Library Journal, who called it “silly.”
“This resolution plays into the hands of critics who take ALA to task for being too liberal,” Golrick warned. “If anything, this will turn off many librarians who might otherwise join the organization since it positions ALA in such a left-wing position.”
The announcement of the new proposal touched off a flurry of policy questions and debate on the ALA council e-mail list in which members from various committees looked into old records to see what is meant by phrases such as “affiliate,” “liaison” and “official.”
In response to apparent uncertainty about the outcome of the previous resolution, Stephen L. Matthews, a councilor-at-large, said “We still need to hear from ALSC about what is really happening today.”
“Whether there is anything happening or not,” he added, “it is important to reiterate our concern to BSA about the destructive nature of their so-called ‘moral modeling’ policy.”
Matthews said, with little response from fellow councilors, “I wholeheartedly support additional communication with BSA challenging their policy of intolerance and its encouragement of hate and contempt as part of their organizational commitment to ‘moral education.'”
The volume and intensity of the response on weblogs, e-mail lists and e-mails to WND shows the issue has struck a chord.
Among the opinions received by WND after querying three library e-mail lists are these:
- We should be open to working with the Boy Scouts or any organization which does so much to help boys in so many ways. If ALA wants to help the Scouts become more inclusive, they certainly won’t do it by severing all contact and shutting them out of our organization. – Carol Simmons, director, Daly City Library, Calif.
- I am so sick of the ALA speaking for ALL librarians when I believe that they are only speaking for a MINORITY of librarians. I was a Boy Scout leader for 10 years. Boys Scouts is a great organization. The ALA needs to concentrate on library issues and leave the Boy Scouts ALONE!!!!! – Sharon Beever, Maine.
- “This could turn into a bigger brouhaha than Dr. Laura started, and even teach the Scouts themselves how uptight we are about being liberal – another side of bigotry,” wrote a retired California librarian who wished to remain anonymous. “Young people deserve better.”
“Couldn’t ALA show the bigger heart and merely proclaim itself disapproving of the BSA stance and continue to help the Scouts in the reading and librarianship business?” she wondered.
- “I absolutely believe the ALA should take this action, as should all organizations committed to fairness. With its goal of being “a leader in recruiting and developing a highly qualified and diverse library work force,” the organization must take actions like the proposed resolution to improve the profession’s relationship to diversity.” – Liberty Smith.
- “Because the Boy Scouts choose to discriminate within their organization, my family does not support any of their local or national efforts. I would truly appreciate the gesture of ALA breaking all ties with them as well.” – Katie O’Dell, reading promotions coordinator, Multnomah County Library, Portland, Ore.
- “We would be undermining another value – that of inclusivity – that many people love about libraries and by extension ALA. On the other hand our relationships say something about our values, and not making some sort of statement puts us in murky ethical territory – kind of like not divesting in the Sudan or wherever. I wonder if there is some middle ground that preserves the value of inclusivity.” University of California librarian.
- “BSA will not change its policies but ALA can and should.” – “Big grandma”
Officially, leaders of the ALA and its divisions appear to be taking a cautious approach.
Asked the president’s opinion and if the executive board had discussed the issue, ALA spokeswoman Larra Clark said, “The ALA executive board is not discussing the BSA matter at this time, but I can let you know if action is taken in the future.”
Officials at the Association of Library Services to Children, which has had the most contact with the BSA – and which was criticized most on the council list – did not reply to WND by press time.
Beth Yoke, executive director of the Young Adult Library Services Association, or YALSA, told WND that if an official resolution “regarding any issue is put before ALA’s council, YALSA’s board of directors, when it next meets, will discuss the proposed resolution with the intent of coming to a consensus on what direction to provide YALSA’s Councilor on how to vote on the resolution.”
She also confirmed her group has not received any complaints from ALA members or the public about the informal contacts the ALA maintains with the Scouts.
Librarian and ALA council candidate Greg McClay says the lack of public outcry over the BSA-ALA relationship shows there is “no professional reasoning behind any of this, as libraries serve everyone.”
“This is strictly personal politics,” he charged, pointing out comments posted on the weblog of ALA councilor K. R. Roberto, who said “Personally, I am rather uncomfortable with the concept of ALA having close ties with an organization that finds me morally unfit.”
“And yet this person engages in a discussion to decide if the Boy Scouts are morally fit enough for ALA to have close ties with?” said McClay, a Massachusetts librarian.
While no scientific opinion polls have been take, this week the ALA’s American Libraries Direct online magazine asked the question, “Should the Boy Scouts of America’s policy of excluding agnostics, atheists, and gays prohibit libraries from cooperating with the organization in joint programs?”
Forty-Seven percent voted yes while a majority, 53 percent, vote no.
There is a difference, however, between this poll and an informal one by WND. The WND question asked only about a resolution that would cut off relations with the BSA; it didn’t mention particular libraries.
Even supporters of the resolution within the ALA have not gone as far as to say individual libraries should not cooperate with Scouts and Scout troops.
As Rosenzweig wrote to the council list: “Serving the needs of members of the Boy Scouts is one thing, supporting the BSA, Inc. organizationally linking to them is QUITE another.”
The AL Direct poll seems to indicate many members are not familiar with the Library Bill of Rights, which forbids viewpoint with respect to collection policy and public use.
“Who are we to tell the Boy Scouts that their philosophies are wrong? Have the Boy Scouts told ALA that they disagree with our stand on certain issues?” asked Evelyn Bell, administrative secretary at the Moreno, Calif., Valley Public Library. “While I don’t agree with BSA’s stand on atheists and homosexuals, I’m not interested in alienating, as a group, an organization who works at creating good citizens.”
In support of her argument against the resolution, Bell cited a policy on tolerance from the BSA website:
“A core value of the BSA is respect. Scouting respects those with ideas and customs that are different from our own and expects the same respect from those who may disagree with Scouting’s position. Tolerance for a diversity of values and ideals does not require abdication of one’s own values.”
“If human rights are the issue let us remove the mask of deception,” wrote Nanette Overholt a library associate at the Solano, Calif., County Library.
“There is no persecution against the right to be gay that comes from the Boy Scouts of America, but there does seem to be a constant harassment and bullying from the gay community for the Boy Scouts to conform to their beliefs,” she complained. “The gay community seems to want to abolish the right and freedom to think differently than themselves.”
“Let me leave you with this question: Who is tolerant here?” she ended.
Anthony E. Lee, a professor and librarian at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, agreed in a telephone interview that, “This would be going against their very own principles of liberal openness” not to tolerate the Scouts.
Lee, a longtime BSA and ALA member who has degrees from Seton Hall, Columbia University and Princeton, told WND, “The Boy Scouts of America, ever since I was in scouting in the 1960s, has maintained a stance that is unchanged by the winds of caprice.”
“Meaning they are who they have always been – very straight-laced,” he added, “And I, being an Eagle Scout and a member of the Order of the Arrow have always backed Scouting in that stance.”
“Look, if you don’t subscribe to ALA rules you don’t have to join,” agreed Bork. “There is no ‘right’ to membership.”
But Bork agreed that if discrimination is seen from the standpoint of ALA policies, one could conclude the association has the right, as a private organization, to choose not to associate with the BSA.
“It is a private, non-profit group and it has rights for membership standards,” said Bork, “But we would find it insulting if the ALA removed all mention of Scouts from their websites.”
The renewed debate over the Boy Scout resolution will come to a head at the ALA annual convention this June in New Orleans when the council can decide to table the resolution, accept or modify it, or recommend that the matter be given further consideration by a relevant committee.
“There will be, if necessary, a floor fight,” the resolution sponsor Rosenzweig already has told his fellow council members.
“And this time I hope the majority is not bullied by special interests connected to the BSA,” he said.
Golrick warned those same council members: “As a public library director, I know how critical it is to have support throughout the community. The youth of today are the voters of tomorrow. How can [libraries] expect support in the future, if we do not support the youth today.”
If you would like to sound off on this issue, participate in today’s WND Poll.
Walter Skold is an independent journalist and librarian living in Freeport, Maine.