In a historic vote today that threatens to splinter the iconic organization, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America revised its century-old policy to allow "open and avowed" homosexuals to join its programs.
The new policy maintains the exclusion of adult leaders who are openly homosexual, however.
The BSA said the resolution was approved by 61 percent of the approximately 1,400 Boy Scout leaders from across the nation who voted at the organization's annual conference in Grapevine, Texas.
In a statement issued after the vote, the BSA said the policy change is effective Jan. 1, 2014, "allowing the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units."
The statement said the resolution "reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”
Responding to the vote, the Family Research Council "expressed deep disappointment at the Boy Scouts of America."
"Sadly, the Boy Scouts' legacy of producing great leaders has become yet another casualty of moral compromise," said FRC President Tony Perkins. "Unfortunately, Boy Scout delegates capitulated to strong-arm tactics and abandoned the timeless values that have served the organization well for more than 100 years."
Perkins said the delegates "succumbed to a concerted and manipulative effort by the national BSA leadership despite the BSA's own survey showing 61 percent of its members in opposition to changing the policy."
The new policy, devised after an extensive survey of BSA members, is a revision of a proposal issued in January that would have allowed local troops to decide whether or not to accept openly homosexual members and leaders.
The Scouts count more than 2.7 million members and more than 1 million volunteers.
The BSA said in its statement today that the National Executive Committee, which just completed a lengthy review process, has "no plans for further review on this matter."
"The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue," the statement said.
The BSA said that while "people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting."
A coalition of parents, scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts and other scouting leaders opposing the policy change, called OnMyHonor.net, said after the vote that the BSA can no longer use the phrase "timeless values" in good faith.
"It is with great sadness and deep disappointment that we recognize on this day that the most influential youth program in America has turned a tragic corner," the group said. "The vote today to allow open and avowed homosexuality into Scouting will completely transform it into an unprincipled and risky proposition for parents. It is truly a sad day for Scouting."
Pascal Tessier, a 16-year-old Boy Scout from Maryland who became one of the faces of opposition to the old policy, said the vote today allows him to earn his Eagle Scout award.
His older brother, Lucien Tessier, launched a petition on Change.org in favor of the resolution.
"Just a few hours ago, I was thinking that today could be my last day as a Boy Scout," he said. "Obviously, for gay Scouts like me, this vote is life-changing."
Defenders of the old policy have argued that many scouts who are homosexual have participated in the program without making an issue of their sexuality.
Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute in Sacramento, said the BSA leadership "has cowered to the financial bullying of homosexual activists."
"The Boy Scouts are an organization that takes in approximately $500 million a year," she said. "The homosexual activists have successfully worked their ground-game of pressuring donors and bullying the board members of this iconic institution."
The BSA's decision to propose a change in policy, as WND reported, coincided with a sudden drop in major corporate funding that began last summer after a "gay"-rights blogger for the Huffington Post published a collaborative report that named the donors and chastised them for violating their own policy of not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
Call to prayer
Amid emotional public demonstrations today outside BSA headquarters in Dallas and the nearby convention site, OnMyHonor.net posted a call to prayer today on the organization's Facebook page.
“Would you join us in a time of solemn prayer for our country and for the future of America's youth? Please pray that He has mercy on the BSA and all of us,” the post said.
Meanwhile, in an op-ed in USA Today yesterday, BSA President Wayne Perry called on the National Council to approve the resolution.
“The BSA’s executive committee unanimously presented this resolution because it stays true to Scouting’s mission and remains focused on kids,” said Perry. “No matter what your opinion is on this issue, America needs Scouting, and our policies must be based on what is in the best interest of our nation’s children.”
OnMyHonor.Net founder John Stemberger has contended that a change in the membership policy would "gut a major percentage of human capital in the BSA and utterly devastate the program financially, socially and legally."
"Opening the Boy Scouts to boys who openly proclaim being sexually attracted to other boys and/or openly identify themselves as 'gay' will inevitably create an increase of boy-on-boy sexual contact," said Stemberger in an open letter to the voting Scout leaders.
This week, the Alliance Defending Freedom delivered a petition with 18,724 signatures to the BSA urging the organization to adhere to traditional American values. Meanwhile, the homosexual-advocacy group Scouts for Equality said it delivered nearly 300,000 petition signatures asking the BSA to end its ban on homosexual members.
Twenty U.S. House Democrats sent a letter to the BSA urging an end to the ban. The Congress members said excluding homosexual scouts and scout leaders “is counter to BSA's mission to teach our youth to combat discrimination.”
OnMyHonor.Net's Stemberger says internal estimates by the BSA project an estimated $44 million of lost annual revenue if the policy is changed.
He points to BSA’s own “Voice of the Scout” surveys that indicate tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of parents, scoutmasters and scouts will leave the program if the proposal is adopted.
A member of the National Council previously told WND a decision to change the policy will prompt many at all levels of the organization to quit.
Homosexual-rights groups have said the proposed policy change doesn't go far enough, because a scout who is homosexual must quit the organization when he turns 18.
John Eastman, a constitutional scholar who has advised the Boy Scouts against broadening the membership policy, told the Washington Times before the vote he believed that some local councils will break off from the BSA depending on the outcome.
“Quite frankly, I think that if anybody’s going to leave, it ought to be the ones that are seeking to change the organization into something it's not, rather than those who want to adhere to what it has traditionally always been,” Eastman said. “I'm an Eagle Scout myself, my son's an Eagle Scout and my grandfather was an Eagle Scout. This hits personal.”
About 70 percent of local Scout troops are supported by churches or other religious groups, most of which teach that homosexual behavior is sinful.
Southern Baptist Church leaders urged the Scouts to maintain the membership policy, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the largest sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the U.S., affirmed the proposal.
The Catholic Church, the third-largest Scout troop sponsor, indicated it wants to work with the BSA even if the policy is changed.
Last July, after a thorough two-year study, an 11-member committee of professional scout executives and adult volunteers unanimously concluded the policy of not allowing open homosexuals should be maintained.
The BSA executive committee announced that while not all board members "may personally agree with this policy, and may choose a different direction for their own organizations, BSA leadership agrees this is the best policy for the organization and supports it for the BSA."
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of the Scout organization to exclude homosexuals, because the behavior violated the core values of the private organization.