May 28, 2006

Ain't We All So Open-Minded

Justin Katz

Mike of RightRI (to whose specific post I can't find a way to link) points to a Charles Bakst column that I'd missed. Bakst:

At the recent South Kingstown financial town meeting, Nan Hirst glanced at the proposed budget and noticed a $500 appropriation for the Boy Scouts. ...

Hirst turned to her husband, George, and daughter, Courtney LeClaire-Conway, and said she'd move to delete the item. "I remember telling Courtney that my motion had little chance of passing but that I could not not do it." ...

I say: Good for her, because she was right, and because she took a stand.

I admire individuals who demonstrate courage of convictions -- even if I disagree with the convictions.

Frankly, I don't see anything in the action or the column that indicates a requirement of courage. Here's Mrs. Hirst on her motivation:

We have to stand up so that others know that it's okay to stand up, that it's safe.

Doing things that are safe is not courageous. Safe actions may be right, or they may be wrong, but courage is evident in the risk taken. And in this case, veteran reporter Charles Bakst apparently had a difficult time finding anybody to disagree with the action: even David Preston, Rhode Island Boy Scout organization spokesman, whisps up his hands and says (paraphrasing), "Hey, that's democracy!" Bakst goes so far as to track down Matthew Lutynski, a grown Boy Scout who once disinvited Jack Reed from his Eagle Scout ceremony because of the then-representative's views on abortion, and Matt takes the line that he doesn't agree with the Scouts' policy but doesn't have any control over it.

For his part, RightRI Mike focuses on the fact that the $500 was intended for scholarships for underprivileged kids, but even he writes:

My purpose is not to argue with Hirst’s position. I believe a group like the Scouts, that claims to be an organization rooted in the Christian faith, should have the right to exclude leaders whose behavior does not exemplify their moral beliefs.

Whether a government, local or otherwise, should budget funds for such an organization is another issue.

And his first commenter adds:

... good for the people of South Kingstown for standing up and saying that their government should not, indeed cannot, condone discrimination by giving money to the Scouts. I was at the meeting, and I was somewhat torn about Mrs. Hirst's motion due to the concerns you have raised; but I voted with Mrs. Hirst because what it comes down to is that the Town simply cannot give money to an organization that openly discriminates against gays, even if the money is to be used to send kids to summer camp.

I'm not suggesting that the people of South Kingstown are not within their rights to withhold funds from any particular organization, but let's be honest about it: the town is discriminating against the Boy Scouts on the behalf of homosexuals. An ideological side has been chosen. If we were truly dealing with an objective principle, here, consistency would require that a town not give money to the Boy Scouts for discriminating against Satanists. (Maybe we shouldn't laugh at that.)

The general implication that government bodies — even local ones — cannot allocate funds for the activities of their Christian citizens is pernicious and, properly understood, unconstitutional. In this case, that legal convolution appears to have been a cover for some to take the easy way out (given the local atmosphere).

According to Bakst, "Hirst didn't even know what the Scouts would do with the money." For all she knew, the Scouts were acting as a funnel for funds to give one of the group's juvenile members a heart transplant. Mike is correct to point out the obvious: that, to Hirst and to the voters, the "political statement was more important." As with Catholic adoption services in Massachusetts, forcing social views on religious citizens trumps whatever good those citizens might be doing in the society.

So hooray for the people of South Kingstown for proving that ideology can leverage political abstractions in order to exclude citizens not merely from some private organization, but from their very own government.

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Also, want to give a "hooray" to the South Kingstown Republican Town Committee (, led by Dave Cote, for countering this anti-religious foolishness with a $750.00 donation of their own to the Boy Scouts, so that poor kids can go to summer camp, and not be victims of a battle in which they have no say.

Posted by: Will at May 29, 2006 2:47 AM