Written by Jimi Izrael
After the Supreme Court decision in 1999 giving the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) the right to ban gays from their organization, The New England Coalition for Inclusive Scouting (NECIS) started a national movement that is speaking out in a non-confrontational manner about the BSA's exclusionary policies. The BSA has publicly denounced gays, bisexuals, atheist and agnostics.
Concerns about the hostile environment created by the BSA gave rise to the Inclusive Scouting Movement in 2000, complete with its own small patch that helps identify scouts and scouters who are a "safe" part of a vast system of supports for young scouts with nowhere else to turn. It challenges scouts and scouters to exhibit strong scout virtues under pressure. The coalition currently has six regional branches.
"The three aims of scouting are character, citizenship, and fitness, both physical and mental," says Mark Noel, director of NECIS. "Scouting is effective precisely because it allows our youth to practice many of the difficult aspects of citizenship—such as learning to get along with others with whom you may have some irreconcilable difference of religious belief." Noel has found growing grassroots support.
"I had been a Cub Scout and an Explorer Scout," says Bill Manzke of Dublin (Ohio) Community UCC, "and I have been a Scout Leader for a little over four years. The whole time, I have always been bothered with their policy of excluding groups from membership."
The NECIS has a badge not unlike the BSA merit badges, except that it is not officially sanctioned.
The Inclusive Scouting Distinguished Service Award is presented in "cases of outstanding public displays of support or advocacy for making Scouting available to everyone regardless of religion or sexual orientation, or in cases where an individual takes a stand on the issue at substantial personal risk." Manzke wears his proudly. "Like NECIS says in their literature," says Manzke, "you earn it by wearing it.".