The Boy Scouts of America faces intensifying criticism from the left and right over a proposal to move away from a mandatory no-gays membership policy and allow troop sponsors to decide the matter for themselves.
The Human Rights Campaign, a major gay-rights group that initially welcomed the BSA's possible shift, said Thursday that it was inadequate and demanded that the Scouts adopt a nationwide policy to accept gays as scouts and adult leaders.
The HRC said corporations that continued to donate funds to the Scouts if any troops were allowed to discriminate would lose points in an annual evaluation of how major employers deal with gay-related workplace issues.
Meanwhile, conservative groups which support the long-standing no-gays policy asked their followers to flood BSA headquarters with phone calls opposing any change,
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, urged callers to persist even if they couldn't get through at first.
"The BSA national leadership were not prepared for the thousands of Americans who were shocked to hear that an organization that could always be counted on for standing for what's right was about to cave in to homosexual activists and corporations," Perkins said in an emailed appeal.
"It is so important that you keep the pressure on, to show them how devastating this moral collapse will be for the Scouts and the country," he said.
Similar appeals were made by other conservative groups across the country.
The Boy Scouts, who emphatically reaffirmed the no-gays policy just seven months ago, announced on Monday that they were considering a major change. Instead of mandatory exclusion of gays, the different religious and civic groups that sponsor Scout units would be able to decide for themselves how to address the issue — either maintaining the exclusion or opening up their membership.
The proposal is expected to be discussed, and possibly voted on, at a meeting of the Scouts' national executive board next week in Texas.
Deron Smith, the Scouts' national spokesman, declined comment on the Human Rights Campaign's announcement and also denied reports that the Scouts were taking a poll to gauge public sentiment on the controversy.
"When we receive calls we allow people to provide feedback, but if the board decides to address this topic, it will be about what is in the best interest of Scouting," Smith said. "Regardless of what people think about this issue, America needs Scouting."
Many Scout units are sponsored by relatively conservative religious denominations — notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Southern Baptist churches. Catholic and Mormon leaders have withheld official comment on the proposal, but Southern Baptist officials have criticized it.
The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a blog post that the new policy "is almost sure to please no one and to lead to disaster for the Scouts."
"Those pressing for a reversal of the national policy are not likely to be satisfied with a local option," he wrote. "They had demanded a national policy mandating the full inclusion of homosexuals throughout Scouting at every level.
"On the other side, those who wanted the current policy to remain in place will now have to reconsider any relationship with the Boy Scouts," Mohler added. "The scale of potential membership loss to the Boy Scouts of America is staggering."
Fred Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Scout board members now needed to decide "what kind of America they want to be a part of" — one that frowns on all discrimination or tolerates a degree of it.
"The board has to make a decision one way or another," he said. "The policy proposal they're considering makes the problem worse, not better."
The Human Rights Campaign's president, Chad Griffin, likened the proposed policy change "to a national restaurant chain saying that it will not discriminate at its corporate headquarters, but allow local restaurants to discriminate at will."
To back up its stance, Griffin's organization said it would change the criteria for its annual Corporate Equality Index. To receive a perfect score, companies would have to prohibit philanthropic giving to civic organizations that have a written policy of anti-gay discrimination, or permit its chapters, affiliates, or troops to do so.
Amid pressure from petition campaigns, two corporations — UPS Inc. and Merck & Co. — announced last year they were halting donations to the Scouts until the no-gays policy was changed. For 2011, UPS donated more than $85,000 and Merck gave $30,000 to the BSA and $10,000 to a regional Scout council.
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