Dear Friend of Scouting:
Happy Centennial, Scouting!
Today, August 1st, marks 100 years to the day since Lord Robert Baden-Powell began an eight-day campout with 22 boys on Brownsea Island off the coast of Dorset in southern England. This event is considered to be the birth of the Boy Scouts. It is being marked by a World Jamboree in England this week and is being observed by the 30 million Scouts worldwide. The U.S. Centennial of Scouting will come in 2010.
As we observe this historic occasion it is especially appropriate to introduce Hans Zeiger. Hans is the newest staff member of the American Civil Rights Union’s Scouting Legal Defense Fund and someone who has worked with us as a volunteer for several years. He epitomizes personally the ideals of scouting and is an Eagle Scout, an assistant Scoutmaster, the author of two books and numerous articles on Scouting, a syndicated columnist and a frequent defender of Scouting in the media and in other venues among his other many accomplishments.
This would be an impressive resume for anyone, but it is especially impressive in this case because Hans is only 22 years old! I have asked Hans to introduce himself to all of you and to describe how he has come to be such an effective and dedicated defender of Scouting. His is an eloquent personal testimonial to the impact Scouting has in so many lives:
The summer of 2001 was a turning point in my life. First, I went with my troop to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Second, I became an Eagle Scout.
The same month I became an Eagle Scout, in June, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired a documentary film criticizing the Boy Scouts for its policy excluding homosexual members and leaders. The film added to what an August 2001 issue of Newsweek magazine called “The Struggle for the Soul of the Boy Scouts.” Suddenly, this organization that meant so much to me, in which I had grown so much and learned so much about being a man, was being derided instead of celebrated. United Ways were cutting funds, government agencies were ending partnerships, churches and non-profit organizations were declaring war on Scouting. It didn’t make much sense to me, and I wanted to fight back.
From that summer forward, I was committed to defending the Boy Scouts. I wrote some letters, made some phone calls, spoke at a Kiwanis club in my town about the challenges to Scouting. Soon, I was ready to move forward with a book project, though I was clueless about how one actually publishes a book. I was determined to write a book chronicling the attacks on the Boy Scouts and making the case for the Scout Oath and Law. I saw this as something of a good turn that I could do for the organization that had given me so much. I spent weeks researching, becoming familiar with a range of issues from feminism to atheism.
I first chatted with Bob Carleson, who was the Founder and Executive Director of the American Civil Rights Union, on the phone sometime in 2002, I think. He didn’t have much reason to pay attention to some 17-year old kid from Puyallup, Washington. But he understood the importance of calling forward the next generation. Occasionally, we kept in touch over the next few years. Bob encouraged and supported me as I completed my book, which was published in 2005 as Get Off My Honor: The Assault on the Boy Scouts of America (Broadman and Holman). Then, two years ago, Bob asked me to be a spokesman for the Scouting Legal Defense Fund, to which I enthusiastically agreed. And when Susan Carleson, Bob’s widow, recently asked me to step up my efforts with the American Civil Rights Union and the SLDF, I was thrilled.
There is a lot of work to do. This effort to defend Scouting needs more men and women who will step up and take a stand. We need men like Bob Carleson, who devoted his life to public service, and who took the time to encourage an Eagle Scout named Hans Zeiger. It turns out that Bob’s encouragement went a long way.
When I decided to get involved six years ago, I could not have imagined how much of a difference one person can make. I really was taking a risk with my time. But after hundreds of hours of interviews on radio and television discussing the Boy Scouts, after speeches at camporees, Eagle Courts, and banquets, after book reviews negative and positive, I can say that my decision six years ago to get involved was worth it. I have been blessed to take part in one of the most important discussions about the future of our country. After all, if Scouting goes away, America itself can’t be far behind.
We are excited about Hans joining us and contributing his many talents and energy to our efforts to defend Scouting.
Susan A. Carleson