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Different beliefs lead scoutmasters to quit

The Daily Star, February 15, 2003
Box 250, Oneonta, NY, 13820
By Jill Fahy, Staff Writer

       Controversial Boy Scout policies banning gays and atheists from the organization were behind the recent resignations of two local Scout leaders.
       Chris Wood, former scoutmaster of Oneonta Troop 23, and James Greenberg, who served as leader of Oneonta's Cub Scout Pack 91, relinquished their positions in December.
       Both groups remain without permanent leadership, according to one parent who said finding someone to fill the role has been slow-going.
       Wood of Oneonta served as Troop 23 scoutmaster from 1996 to 2000, and again from January 2002 until his resignation two months ago.  He says he could no longer be a member of an organization that discriminates against gays and atheists.
       "The Scouts are sending the wrong message about tolerance of people with different beliefs," said Wood, who has two sons who have been part of the Scouting program.  "You need to judge every individual as an individual and not because of any other associations they may have."
       Though he said he has long frowned on the Boy Scouts' position on gays, Wood kept his views to himself until he learned about an Eagle Scout in Washington who was kicked out of the organization last year for being an atheist.
       "I would like to see Scouting not be so segregated these days," he said.  "It needs to come into the 21st century."
       As a private organization, the Boy Scouts of America is permitted to exclude certain people from membership.  The organization bans gays and atheists, and its ban on gay leaders was reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.
       On membership applications, Boy Scouts and adult leaders must say they recognize a higher power, but not necessarily a religious one.
       This policy hit the national spotlight last fall, when Darrell Lambert, an Eagle Scout from Seattle, was kicked out of Boy Scouts for being an atheist.
       The Boy Scouts expelled Lambert in November, after giving him a week to declare his belief in a supreme being.
       Lambert has said he plans to appeal the decision.
       Wood, an Episcopalian, says he has a deep faith in God but doesn't see how one's faith should be a prerequisite for good moral character.
       Greenberg, who also stepped down in December as a Scout leader, announced at a Scout committee meeting he could no longer serve as packmaster because he is an atheist, said Helen Reilly, a Scout parent and Troop 23 committee leader.
       "(Wood and Greenberg) did what they thought was the right thing to do," Reilly said.  "I disagree with their positions, but I respect them for standing up for what they believe."
       Multiple messages left this week for Greenberg at home and at work were not returned.
       Tom Wright, Scouting executive for the Otschodela Council, said Greenberg signed his leadership application without realizing that being an atheist was against Boy Scout rules.
       "When he found out that this was a principle we had, he respectfully stepped down," Wright said.  "It was (Greenberg's and Wood's) personal decision, and we accept their reasons for their decisions."
       Still, Wright added, all Boy Scout policies should be upheld.
       "The Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed our right to select our leadership in the program," he said.  "If they don't want to go by what the Scout values are, they can't become leaders."
       Wood said his decision to resign met with mixed emotions among Troop 23 committee members.
       "It was anywhere from people thinking I was way off base to others being fully in support of it," he said.  "It was fairly equally split."
       Reilly, whose 18-year-old son is in Troop 23, says she stands strongly behind all Boy Scout policies.
       "(Wood and Greenberg) may have been very good leaders, but the Boy Scouts have leadership standards," Reilly said.  She referred to a recent Boy Scout survey in which 70.3 percent of Scout parents said they agree with the organization's position that homosexuals are not appropriate role models.
       As for the atheism policy, Reilly pointed to the Boy Scout Oath and Law, which refers to a Scout's duty to God.
       "All that's required is that you have some belief in a higher power, whether it's God or Buddha or anything."
       Why the nationwide controversy over these policies has hit so close to home - in rural upstate New York - is anyone's guess.  But Reilly has her own theory.
       "We live in a college town," she said.  "It may be that people are more liberal."
       Meanwhile, Troop 23 and Pack 91 remain, technically, without leadership.
       The committee for Troop 23, which is primarily composed of parents of Scouts, met Wednesday to discuss filling the role.  Their top candidate, however, was unable to accept the position, Reilly said.
       "Job commitments prevented him from doing it," she said.  "But we have a decent prospect that looks almost certain."
       The candidate, whose name Reilly did not disclose, will be voted on at next month's meeting.
       Cub Scout Pack 91 hasn't been as successful, according to Jeanne Conroy, whose husband, Jay Harrison, has offered to fill in temporarily.
       "He is only helping out because (the pack) needs leadership," Conroy said.  "They haven't been able to find anyone to take over permanently."
       One thing everyone seems to agree on is that finding leaders these days isn't as easy as it used to be.  The job, Reilly and Wood both said, requires a major time commitment many people aren't able to make.
       Wood said the first time he stepped down as troop leader, in 2000, was because of the time commitment.
       "It's a lot of work," said Wood, a former social worker who is now a probation officer.  "After four years, I was getting tired of making all the meetings, so it was in the best interest of the boys that I left."
       He suggested limiting who qualifies as a leader narrows the pool of potential candidates in an already-dwindling pool.
       "I believe these policies are inhibiting the growth of the Boy Scouts by limiting some of their leadership," he said.
       Leaders are more difficult to find these days, Wright agreed, suggesting members of the "Me" generation are now parents and more difficult to recruit.
       But, he said, Scouting remains strong in Oneonta, and residents always seem to step up as leaders.
       "We're rather fortunate in our particular area," he said.  "Parents step forward and volunteer."

Teacher Of The Year Battles Boy Scouts
February 15, 2003
by Mary Ellen Peterson

       Los Angeles, California - San Diego physical education teacher Lynn Barnes-Wallace has been honored as the Best physical education teacher in the southwest region, making her one of six finalists for the National Physical Education Teacher of the Year Award.
       In an ironic twist, Barnes-Wallace, a lesbian, is also a plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit challenging the City of San Diego's subsidy of the Boy Scouts, whose policy deems gays and lesbians unfit for volunteer positions with their organization.
       Barnes-Wallace was recognized Friday night in Reno, Nevada, at the annual meeting of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance for her innovative physical fitness program for elementary school students at Page Elementary School in San Diego.
       Her IMPACT Program - Increased Movement and Physical Activity Class Time - is unique in providing developmentally appropriate activities taught by a certified physical education teacher 3 to 5 days each week.  IMPACT contrasts with the more common approach to physical education in elementary schools, which usually consists of only one day a week of instruction provided by the classroom teacher, who is not a certified expert. Barnes-Wallace's program is supported by both city and national grants and has twice been featured in Physical Education Magazine.
       "It is beyond ironic that Lynn is good enough to be Teacher of the Year, but not good enough to be a Den Mother for the Scouts," says Dr. Delores Jacobs, Executive Director of the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.
       "Lynn's well-deserved award once again highlights the noxious consequences of the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding gays and lesbians: a talented and clearly responsible adult is unable to be a resource for youth who desperately need adult mentorship."


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