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-The Boy Scouts Membership Policy Change and The Legal Ramifications for Churches

by Dr. D ~ August 22nd, 2013


The lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom have produced a document concerning the recent changes in membership policy for the Boy Scouts and the possible legal ramifications that may be coming particularly for churches.

The ADF folks say that legal problems are due to follow the change in membership policy. Also, since they have caved-in on this one point activists will be encouraged to push for additional changes to the BSA policies, particularly concerning belief in God and the makeup of leaders. Bottom line, churches may want to consider cutting ties with the BSA. The following are conclusions from the ADF document:

Separation from BSA may not be easy, but it may be necessary for churches who want to best protect their right to freely preach the Gospel, to be a witness to our nation’s youth, and to avoid undermining their ability to make decisions based on their religious convictions in other, critical contexts.

Read the whole document: “Re: The Legal Ramifications of BSA’s New Youth Membership Policy


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3 Responses to -The Boy Scouts Membership Policy Change and The Legal Ramifications for Churches

  1. Brian

    The ADL document overlooks one of the most critical areas of exposure to liability. Traditionally, when a Boy Scout reported or claimed he was abused by a scout leader (or an older scout), his attorney would sue the actual wrongdoer for intentional wrongful acts (the sexual abuse of a minor is pretty much by definition an “intentional wrongful act”). The problem is that insurance policies do not cover intentional wrongful acts.

    So, the plaintiff’s attorney will sue every body else who might have been negligent in failing to stop or prevent the abuse. He sues other scout leaders in the troop. He sues the sponsoring organization, perhaps a church. His goal is to trigger coverage under their liability insurance policies, potentially leading to settlement offers from insurance companies.

    Traditionally, the defense of these negligence claims, by the other leaders in the troop, and by the sponsoring church, would have been “we had no notice of any propensity by scout leader X or older scout Y to sexually abuse young boys. Scouts do not allow homosexual members, so any older scout or scout leader who had homosexual propensities would have to conceal this fact. We saw nothing that led us to believe that scout leader X or older scout Y posed any risk of sexual abuse to younger scouts. So, we were not negligent”. This has been a winning argument for many years.

    Now, however, when scouting membership requirements change, what is the defense to be raised by the other scout leaders in the troop, or by the sponsoring organization? Now, the other scout leaders and the sponsoring church have to acknowledge that they knew that there was a risk that an older scout might be a homosexual (and, in fact, they may have to acknowledge that the particular wrongdoer in any particular case was a publicly acknowledged homosexual). If they say “we knew that older scout who is accused of molesting the younger scout was a homosexual, and we were watching him closely” then the plaintiff’s attorney argues “you were aware of the risk, but you were negligent in not supervising him closely enough”. If they say “we were aware that the accused older scout was a homosexual, but were not watching him any more closely because of that”, it opens up a whole new line of attack.

    Either way, the potential for substantial tort liability to organizations that sponsor scout troops, and to individual scout masters, for negligently failing to detect/prevent abuse of scouts, has gone up dramatically.

  2. Brian

    I wrote “ADL” which is a scrivener’s error for “ADF” in the response above.

  3. Dr. D

    Thanks Brian for the additional info and informed perspective. Does sound like sponsoring churches are in for troubled legal waters ahead.

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