In a historic swing to bolster its declining numbers, the Boy Scouts of America announced Wednesday that girls will be able to join the Cub Scouts and even rise to the rank of Eagle.
But Mormon girls may not be decked out in neckerchiefs and blue uniforms in LDS Church-sponsored troops anytime soon.
The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, traditionally the nation’s largest Scouting sponsor, said its programs for girls will remain unchanged.
“The Activity Days and Personal Progress programs of the church have long been in place to meet the needs of girls and young women in these age groups, and no change will be made in church programs,” spokesman Eric Hawkins said in an emailed statement. ”We recognize that the desire of the BSA is to expand their programs to serve more young people in the United States. The church, too, continues to look at ways to serve the needs of our youth worldwide.”
When asked to elaborate, including whether girls would be allowed to participate in LDS Church-sponsored Cub Scout packs and whether the faith’s Young Men program would continue to include Scouting, Hawkins declined to answer.
“At this point,” he said. “The statement is all we have to offer.”
The LDS Church has a longstanding, though recently scaled-back, relationship with the BSA, with Mormon boys encouraged to join Scouting groups hosted by local congregations.
But in recent years, LDS leaders have promoted and further developed internal programs, like the Mormon doctrine-aligned Duty to God, while stepping away from the BSA’s Venturing and Varsity programs for teenage boys older than 14. That latter decision peeled away more than 180,000 Mormon boys from those groups.
The church has noted previously that it is looking to develop its own program to serve LDS young people around the globe.
Mormon officials have expressed concerns with the loosening of membership restrictions for the BSA, particularly the 2015 move to allow gay men to be Scout leaders. Gay men are allowed to serve in some Mormon leadership roles, including working with a congregation’s Scouting troop, if they do not act on their same-sex attractions and remain celibate in accordance with LDS Church teachings on morality.
The BSA has no corresponding ban on gay leaders who are sexually active or in same-gender relationships. But the organization did allow the church to operate its Scouting programs in adherence to the faith’s standards.
An announcement posted on the BSA website attributed the policy change to years of requests to allow female members and an interest in offering families additional options for the character development of children.
Michael Surbaugh, BSA’s chief Scout executive, said in a prepared statement that Scouting’s values, which include trustworthiness, loyalty, friendliness and kindness, are important for both young men and young women.
“It is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children,” Surbaugh said. “We strive to bring what our organization does best — developing character and leadership for young people — to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”
Founded in 1910, the BSA since 2013 has opened its membership to gay youths and gay leaders, along with transgender boys.
BSA spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos told The Associated Press there currently are no plans to alter the organization’s name to reflect the addition of female Scouts.
Mark Griffin, Scout executive for the BSA’s Great Salt Lake Council, said sponsors such as the LDS Church will continue to have flexibility under the new policy, and the ability to dictate membership and leadership of local Scouting packs.
“It’s up to the chartering organization,” he said.
Griffin said the intention of the new membership policy is not to intermingle children of either gender. Instead Cub Scout Dens — the smallest unit of the Scouting organization — will remain gender-specific, with boys’ and girls’ dens getting together for larger activities like pack meetings and day camps.
Surbaugh told the AP there would continue to be a ban on mixed-gender overnight outings for Scouts ages 11 to 14. Cub Scout camping trips, he noted, are usually family affairs with less need for rigid policies.
For older girls, a new program is expected to launch in 2019 that will be based on the Boy Scout curriculum and will include advancement to the rank of Eagle Scout.
“We know that girls develop differently,” Griffin said. “Girls mature much faster than boys do.”
The Girl Scouts of America criticized the new policy, according to national reports, accusing the BSA of damaging the bond between the two organizations.
Janet Frasier, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Utah, said she respects a family’s right to choose the best options for their children, but that Girl Scout leaders remain confident in their program’s value.
“There will continue to be families who really will choose the value of a girl-only experience,” Frasier said.
The Girl Scouts of Utah includes roughly 7,500 girls, Frasier said.
There are no discussions of opening the Girl Scout program to boys, she added, while declining to speculate on whether the BSA is improved by female members.
“I am a mother of three daughters so my personal experience with Boy Scouts is pretty limited,” Frasier said. “I wouldn’t want to comment on the way they’re viewing the market.”
Griffin said the question of whether to add girls to Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts has long been a point of discussion among Scouting leaders. The organization also has made public overtures toward a membership expansion in recent months, polling its Scouting councils and gauging the interest of potential girl Scouts.
The Great Salt Lake Council includes more than 75,000 Scouts in Salt Lake, Tooele, Summit and southern Davis counties.
“We’ve been talking about it for two years,” Griffin said. “It went through a vetting process with local councils.”
The BSA already allowed girls to participate in its Venturing program for youths older than 14. And Griffin said it is common for girls in Venturing to participate alongside their male counterparts in both small-unit and larger activities.
He said the new policy is intended to add convenience to Scouting families. Both male and female children could attend their respective den meetings as part of a single Scout pack.
“A family can go to one place in one night,” he said.
The move to allow girls into the Boy Scouts was praised by Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who tweeted that the shift was “Great news!” followed by a picture of a flexing bicep and the hashtag “DayoftheGirl.”