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Flag Burning and other disturbing behaviors

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Brent,

 

Yes, I suppose you're correct - my argument could very well be interpreted as meaning that any speech used by a scout would be acceptable. As someone who earns at least a little money as an artist, I tend to view the First Amendment as being rather sacred, and well worth defending, even if I find the speech of others to be repugnant (I'm thinking in particularly here of one "Reverend" Fred Phelps).

 

For the scenario you've laid out, foul language or t-shirts with repulsive messages, I believe I would do my best to make sure I addressed it as inappropriate behavior for a Scout while on Scout Time - outside of Scouts, these issues are really a parents baliwick, and its up to the parents to police their children - I couldn't very well penalize a scout for wearing an "unscoutlike" t-shirt in the non-scout world if the parents had no objection to it. But at a scouting event? Completely different story.

 

CalicoPenn

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Brent,

 

Yes, I suppose you're correct - my argument could very well be interpreted as meaning that any speech used by a scout would be acceptable. As someone who earns at least a little money as an artist, I tend to view the First Amendment as being rather sacred, and well worth defending, even if I find the speech of others to be repugnant (I'm thinking in particularly here of one "Reverend" Fred Phelps).

 

For the scenario you've laid out, foul language or t-shirts with repulsive messages, I believe I would do my best to make sure I addressed it as inappropriate behavior for a Scout while on Scout Time - outside of Scouts, these issues are really a parents baliwick, and its up to the parents to police their children - I couldn't very well penalize a scout for wearing an "unscoutlike" t-shirt in the non-scout world if the parents had no objection to it. But at a scouting event? Completely different story.

 

CalicoPenn

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Are you only a Scout when you wear your uniform, or are attending a Scouting event? Is that what you teach your Scouts?

 

Good points, BrentAllen, but I think the first question is for the boy to answer not the SM. A corollary to these is, "As SM, are you in charge of (responsible for, able to create consequences for) a boy's behavior when he's with his parents or acting within the rules of his family and NOT in uniform and/or at a Scouting event?

 

I understand your disappointment in the Scout's behavior, but I think it would be tough to follow through with the consequences you laid out. Given your scenario, he didn't hurt anyone, didn't break any law, . . . once you get past the raw emotional response, how do you explain your actions (those from your post) to other Scouts and Scouters -- even if they all agreed with your thinking, numbers don't make your actions correct. What expalantions would? Seems tough to me.

 

(Not being a BOR specialist) I suppose a BOR could focus on "living the Scout Spirit" and slow advancement for this Scout.

 

What else would be an appropriate response?

 

jd

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Brent poses a scenario in which a scout (presumably not in uniform and not at a scouting activity) engages in a behavior that is not against BSA policy, is not illegal and does not injure anyone. The behavior is politically symbolic and the scout is clearly exercising his right to free speech. However, the behavior is viscerally offensive to most of the community and to the troop leadership.

 

How should the troop respond? Your answer will likely depend on where you are along the continuum of free speech vs. censorship.

 

To me, the parallels are striking between this hypothetical scenario and the current uproar about the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h.). In neither case was the behavior intended to be offensive to anyone but rather was intended to stimulate debate. Nonetheless, the behavior is/are inflammatory and highly offensive to a segment of the population who do not support free speech.

 

There is no 'right' answer to either situation. However, I think that people who value freedom of expression are more likely to support the Scout and the Danish press, while people who value social order are more likely to support censuring the Scout and censoring the press.

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Calico and Trevorum have made good arguments here and I mostly agree. However, to me intent is irrelevant. Offence is a matter of perception by the receiving end of any 'speech'. I often offend when I have no such intent. And to me, even if the boy intended to offend (the cartoonists had to be pretty naive not to expect some offence), that's tough luck for the recipient or the offended. Even rude 'speech' that is clearly offensive is merely 'speech' and people on the receiving end need to recognize that this is the other edge of the sword that is the first amendment. Develop a thicker skin or go get some therapy somewhere.

 

Brent, I live in an area that's at least as 'red' as yours and if one of the boys burned the flag in protest on Sunday morning in front of the courthouse, the community would say, "h'mmm" and then get on with making money. The boy would become disillusioned about the ineffectiveness of protest and probably turn his attention to girls or something. (This message has been edited by a staff member.)

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packsaddle,

Did you totally miss the ruckus over the flag painted in the cul-de-sac? It made the national news!

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/01/11/earlyshow/main1202031.shtml

If people got that upset over painting a flag, I think they would get pretty steamed over a burning!

 

Yes, free speech is a right. Facing the repercussions is the price that must be paid. I would ask my Scouts - is this something you would do if you were wearing your uniform? If they said yes about burning a flag in protest, I would suggest they find another unit. I would find it hard to believe they couldn't come up with some other way to make their statement. My free speech would be "find another unit."

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BrentAllen, burning the flag while in uniform WOULD be inappropriate and worthy of a chat with the lad to help him understand the reasons why we don't make such political statements while representing the group by being uniformed.

 

Outside of Scouting, I can't see that it's the SM's business -- given the parameters you originally proposed.

 

jd

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Brent, I guess I did miss that one. Not too far from my house is a home where the guy flies two flags on the same mast. At the top is the Confederate battle flag and underneath it is our American flag. Would the folks in Duluth react the same way to that, I wonder? Probably not in Forsythe County, I expect.

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jd asks "Outside of Scouting, I can't see that it's the SM's business -- given the parameters you originally proposed."

 

jd may just be talking about a political activity, but I would like to expand the question - is it the SM's business what a Scout does outside of Scouting?

To me, if you are not affecting the boys outside of Scouting, you are missing the whole point of the program. If Scouting is just something you do on Monday nights and one weekend a month, you are missing the real power of Scouting.

Frank Logue is my age. We were in the same Troop as Scouts, where he made Eagle. He and his wife have had some great experiences in their lives, and have written books about them. http://www.planetanimals.com/logue/

 

Frank is now a Pastor at King of Peace Church in Kingsland, GA (stop by and visit on your Cumberland Island trip). He gave a sermon where he talked about the power of Scouting, and how our SM kept him on the straight and narrow path.

 

"Heres one way I have seen grace passed along in my own life. When I was growing up, I was always in scouting. I started out in Cub Scouts by attending my brothers meetings as my Mom was the den mother. When I was finally old enough to be a Cub Scout, I joined and did not unjoin all through elementary school, junior high, high school and my first year of college. Scouting was good to me. I got to see the world, backpacking our west, traveling to England and Sweden for the World Jamboree and more. But most importantly, I was in troop that considered itself to be a ministry. The leaders were passing along the grace they received. They had been given undeserved favor from God and they were passing it along to us.

 

My Scoutmaster was Gene McCord. Well north of six feet tall, Mr. McCord was imposing for a young scout. Mr. McCord was at times a rigid taskmaster who demanded your best of you. But over time, I came to see how Mr. McCord loved us. When I was 16, I had a couple of incidents Mr. McCord found out about. One time, I was driving a car while Mark, another buddy of mine from scouts, was throwing bottles at signs and mailboxes, just to hear them smash. Another time, I got mad at Mark and dropped him off in the middle of no where. Now, no one but me and God and Mark knew about these incidents and I know for a fact that Mark didnt tell.

 

In each case, Mark and I were seen and someone reported it back to Mr. McCord. He pulled me aside at a meeting and layed it all on the line. Mr. McCord reminded me that I was not that kind of boy and would not be that kind of man. Mr. McCord had given me lots of unmerited favor and love already and right when I was least deserving of love he showed me tough love. In no uncertain terms, Mr. McCord made it clear that I would not continue down the new path I had set for myself. There were no threats. There were no ultimatums. By force of will, he was blocking the way. I had no choice but to stay on the straight and narrow path.

 

Many years later and just a few years ago, I was asked to speak at a dinner given for Mr. McCords retirement as a scoutmaster after something like 30 years. I looked around at Mark, and all my fellow scouts from years before. I recounted this story and then I said, How can we possibly thank Gene McCord for all he did for us. The answer was clear. Paying him back is not possible or even the right idea. Saying thank you is not enough. The way to thank Mr. McCord is to pass along the love he showed us to another generation. Mr. McCord always connected his leadership in Scouting to his faith in God. He knew that he could not earn or deserve Gods love. Instead of trying to pay back God, he passed Gods grace along to others."

 

Can a SM have that type of affect on a young man if it is none of his business what happens in the young man's life outside of Scouting? I think not.

http://www.kingofpeace.org/

 

 

 

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One of the requirements for advancement is that a boy live the Scout Oath and Law in his daily life. So, at least with respect to advancement, what a Scout does away from the Troop IS the business of the Scoutmaster.

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Fred, you are of course correct. But as long as the Scout is not violating any BSA policies or breaking any laws, the SM has no authority over his political views. The SM's responsibility would be limited to discussing such behavior to make sure it was an honest statement of beliefs. Withholding advancement because the SM did not agree with the Scout's political views would be un-American and an abuse of authority.

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BrentAllen, Great story - thank you. Mr. McCord seems like a great SM, and a great person.

 

I think my point rests in the difference between the behavior you credited to Mr. McCord and the threatened behavior (over flag burning) of the adults in your unit. I think it's an important point and a huge difference between the grace an SM shares with the lives of his Scouts and the punishment of a legal behavior with which the Unit Scouters are uncomfortable. Mr. McCord's behavior was welcomed by the boy and focused on the best future for the boy. Your emotionally-charged response to the earlier post doesn't show in the same light. And I don't mean to focus on you - I apologize if this seems challenging - it's a much wider topic than individual Scouters. In truth, I can't imagine Unit Leaders, after reflection, following through on that knee-jerk reaction mentioned earlier.

 

If our efforts are welcomed by the boy and the family - fine. I agree we can a have a great impact on our kids - in fact, we should strive to do so. But, if it's not a Scout thing, and we disagree with the boy's family approved legal behavior - I think we're overstepping our role.

 

Fred and Trev, it seems pretty gray to me. I think most Scouters' emotions would run along the lines of BrentAllen. Is there some training or material that explains how BORs, SM conferences, etc. might handle such a complicated scenario?

 

jd

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Nick, I would never suggest that a SM should withhold advancement because a Scout differed with him politically.

 

But Scouts are taught to honor and respect the flag. There are many ways to express one's political views besides burning the flag. I think it would be a fair question for a SM to ask a Scout how burning the US flag comports with the Scout Oath and Law.

 

If a Scout felt strongly that burning the flag was appropriate in the circumstances, it would also be a fair question to ask the Scout if there were alternative ways to express his political views that might better comport with the Scout Oath and Law.

 

I believe those are fair questions that do not in any way impose the SM's political views on the Scout.

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JD asks if there is any training or materials that explains how BORs, SM conferences, etc. might handle such a complicated scenario?

 

I don't know if any such detailed guidance exists, or even if that's a good idea (do we really want another document like G2SS that always gets bigger and never gets smaller, all in an attempt to cover every known or unknown possibility to make make Scouting "safer"?).

 

But I am aware of two supplemental training modules recently released by National and available on the BSA website that provide general guidance on how to conduct a SMC or BOR, with suggested questions:

 

===========================

 

Supplemental Training Modules:

 

Supplemental training modules are designed to provide orientation beyond the basic training offered in New Leader Essentials and leader-specific training. Each module is a unit of training that can be used as an outline for a group, for personal coaching, or for self-study. Most of the outlines should require about an hour to complete. Consider each unit of study to be an introduction to the subject. Scouters are welcome to download subjects that are of interest for personal or unit use. There are no training credits associated with the completion of these units of study. Additional training units are being developed and will be continually added to this site.

 

http://www.scouting.org/boyscouts/supplemental

 

 

Scoutmaster Conference Training:

 

This module will teach Scoutmasters, assistant Scoutmasters, and other troop leaders about the purposes of the Scoutmaster's conference and will offer suggestions for questions that could be asked at these conferences.

 

http://www.scouting.org/boyscouts/supplemental/18-629

 

 

Board of Review Training:

 

This module will train troop committee members and others in the purposes of the board of review, offering suggestions for the types of questions that can or should be asked.

 

http://www.scouting.org/boyscouts/supplemental/18-625

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