Conservative speaker, diverse membership in Scouts

by Amy Kingsley

Oliver North’s appearance at a fundraiser for the local council of the Boy Scouts of America was a resounding success when measured in purely fiscal terms. The Old North State Council netted more than $225,000 for the program that serves almost 10,000 children over several counties in central North Carolina.

But some scouting participants have expressed concern that the choice of North ‘— a decorated Marine who masterminded an illegal arms trading scheme in the 1980s ‘— indicates a partisan shift in the organization. During his speech, North described the Scouts as a group increasingly under fire by encroaching secularism and moral relativism. North requested donations specifically to fund the legal battles that have cropped up against the Scouts in the last few years.

After a brief introduction describing his current job as the host of Fox News’ ‘“War Stories,’” North launched into his major theme.

‘“We are indeed living in very strange times,’” North said. ‘“We are at war with fierce and brutal adversaries who hate us for our faith, for our freedom and for out Judeo-Christian ethics. But we are also under attack by our fellow citizens who want us to embrace their value systems.’”

At one point he earned resounding applause from audience members who had paid hundreds of dollars for their seat inside the Koury Convention Center meeting room.

‘“In God We Trust is our national motto, not a right wing political slogan,’” North said. ‘“The decision was made to adopt it as such because our founders believed in God. If it is good enough for our coins and bills, why is it not good enough for our boys?’”

Even those who have reached the Boy Scout’s highest levels have not necessarily echoed the agreement expressed at the Friends of Scouting banquet. Matt Bostick, an Eagle Scout from Oak Ridge, Tenn., said that his scout troop did not emphasize Christianity.

He belonged to a boy-run troop that amended the required belief in God into a belief in something. That allowed an avowed atheist to earn his Eagle by defending his faith in math.

He dismissed the notion that the ideology of the organizations leaders filtered down to members. Mark Dixon, a third-generation Eagle Scout, also said that members of his Chapel Hill troop worried more about their immediate concerns than conforming to the organization’s ideology.

‘“We would see scouts from the Old North State Council at various events,’” Dixon said. ‘“But stuff like foreign affairs and scandals are not on your minds so much when you’re kids. You’re more worried about how to build a bridge.’”

Increasingly the Boy Scouts have been excluded from public facilities because of concerns about the group’s religious nature. The group supports the rights of those who don’t share the Boy Scouts beliefs and desires to create a politically neutral environment for its members, according to a position paper on the website of the national council.

During his speech, North belied the neutral positions described on the national council website, instead pitting the Boy Scouts against Osama bin Laden.

‘“Those critics of scouting, the ones who say it’s anachronistic,’” North said, ‘“they should remember another charismatic leader who took a handful of young men under his wing and taught them how to hate and kill. Now contrast what these 19 men had learned with what thousands of young men in the Boy Scouts learn: respect for others, life, country and community.’”

Dixon said the most important skill he learned in the Boy Scouts was how to work with others. He said the group is a lot like a religion where the message is filtered through churches.

‘“It depends entirely on who’s administering that format,’” he said. ‘“In my troop there was very little emphasis on a Christian sort of spirituality.’”

Oliver North is an unfortunate representative for an organization that positively influenced his life, Dixon said.

‘“He’s a pretty dramatic representation of the fascist side of the scouts,’” he said. ‘“He’s a criminal in my mind.’”

That said, Dixon said he does not think that the Boy Scouts have turned into an ideological organization.

‘“It’s something I’ve thought about a lot,’” he said. ‘“If I had a boy, would I encourage him to join the Boy Scouts? I think I probably would, but I would be really hesitant to send a kid of mine off to the Old North State Council.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at