President’s National Jamboree speech, BSA’s response is an affront to scouting

President Donald Trump waves to the crowd of scouts at the 2017 National Boy Scout Jamboree at the Summit in Glen Jean ,W.Va., Monday, July 24, 2017. (Steve Helber/AP)

President Donald Trump waves to the crowd of scouts at the 2017 National Boy Scout Jamboree at the Summit in Glen Jean ,W.Va., Monday, July 24, 2017. (Steve Helber/AP)

I am a former Cub Scout, a former Boy Scout and a current Eagle Scout. From 2002 to 2012 I affirmed (and in some cases reaffirmed) my allegiance to the Scout Oath and Law. I promised that I would serve my God, my Country, my family and myself.

Now, after almost 15 years of being a part of scouting, hearing the President’s speech at the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Scout Jamboree at Summit Betchel Reserve in West Virginia has me honestly considering disassociating myself from it. Trump’s remarks were out of line and not at all fitting of the ideals of scouting. The BSA response was no better.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few days you’ve heard about Trump’s speech at the BSA Jamboree. The President of the United States is considered to be the honorary president of the BSA and it is traditional for the President to speak at the National Jamboree. In this case, that was the end of the tradition. Presidents normally speak about brotherhood and the good that the BSA provides for younger Americans. Instead Trump used his platform to boo his predecessor, bash the current state of the country and threatened to fire his Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

Since Trump’s speech, the BSA has released a statement where they say that the decision to invite a president to speak is tradition and part of “‘Duty to Country’ from the Scout Oath.” According to the BSA the invitation was not meant as a political statement. They also posted an apology to all those who were offended by the presidential address.

I could probably spend the next 1,000 words bashing Trump. I’ve done it before and I will probably do it again. But not today. Today the subject of my ire is an organization that I’ve given my life to be a part of and mostly enjoyed my time in.

The Scout Law says that every scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. The Scout Oath says that scouts need to pledge their duty to god, to country and to their self. There’s a lot more symbolism and pledges but these are the major ones. According to the BSA if you follow these “rules” you can become a good person and rise within the ranks of the Boy Scouts of America. Basically don’t be a dick and we’ll help you become a leader.

Now all that being said, the BSA has not been the most controversy-free organization especially on the issue of civil rights. The most well-known issue has been the organization’s stance on homosexuality. As of 2014, gay scouts and leaders have been made welcome in the organization. This decision caused a separation between the Mormon Church and the BSA. On January 30, 2017, the BSA decided that transgender boys would be allowed to participate in scouting related activities. In other areas, there has been zero progress. If you are an atheist or agnostic, you cannot earn the Eagle Scout badge.

So congrats to the Boy Scouts of America for being kind of inclusive and for taking just over a hundred years to get there. Their response to Trump’s speech shows that all of this progress was basically for not.

I am of the firm belief that all people should be allowed to participate in scouting. It doesn’t matter what your sexuality, gender, race or religious beliefs are. If we are supposed to follow the Scout Oath and Law, then anyone should be allowed to participate.

President Trump seems to only value the loyalty part of the Scout Law. He wants hordes and hordes of blind support, no matter who it comes from. And you know what, as offensive as that is I say whatever. Trump isn’t a scout and has never been associated with scouting, clearly. He should be held to standards, but not to anything scouting related. We should, however, be holding the BSA to the standards they set.

As mentioned earlier, the BSA keeps telling us that they are more inclusive and as their statement attempts to make clear, they do not endorse any political candidate or leanings. But at the same time, the BSA knowingly invited Donald J. Trump to give a speech at the National Jamboree. They can argue that it’s tradition and whatever but they can’t just use that as an excuse to get away from the matter hand. Trump hijacked that podium and the BSA are responsible.

Trump is a man who is already starting his campaign for the 2020 election. He is a man who turns every single speech into a political attack of some kind. When Trump took that stage he was planning to attack the American people he was elected to represent and divide an already divided country. It’s what should have been expected because it is what he does best.

Trump’s words were an affront to every single scout and scouter. The attacks went against every single symbol that the scouts stands for. And that is what the BSA should have included in their statement. Sure, Trump should be allowed to give a speech. He is, whether we want it or not, our president. If he is going to keep giving divisive speeches, however, he should be held accountable. A non-apology apology is not at all appropriate. The BSA needs to condemn such speeches that seek to divide their supporters and members. Choosing not to do so harms the brotherhood and unity that makes scouting what it is.

“Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout.” That’s what I was told during my Eagle Court of Honor. The oaths and pledges I made during my scouting career and in that ceremony would bind me to the ideals of scouting for the rest of my life. If, however, the new ideals of scouting are to ignore division and injustice when it is presented right in front of you, then I want no part of it. Eagle Scout for life be damned.


Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.