Utah Boy Scouts lay off 21 employees as it prepares for LDS Church exodus

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this July 22, 2013, file photo, Andrew Garrison, 11, of Salt Lake City, looks over the Rockwell exhibition at the Mormon Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Boy Scouts of America in northern Utah has laid off 21 employees, a move that was bound to happen after its largest sponsor — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — decided to sever centurylong ties to the national organization.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kent Downing, interim Scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council, wrote in a letter posted on its website. “We wish our former colleagues the best as they transition to new employment, and we have offered them severance packages to support them at this time.”

Before the layoffs, some long-tenured employees were given incentives to retire.

In May 2018, the Utah-based LDS Church announced that it was ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, effective Dec. 31, 2019.

The church is in the process of creating new youth programs for its members worldwide, a move it had been working on for a number of years. Latter-day Saint leaders got a sneak peek in July at the faith’s sweeping new global program that will replace its Boy Scout and Young Women curriculum.

The layoffs by the Great Salt Lake Council are “partly related" to the church’s decision, Downing’s letter stated. "However, this will put our council in a stronger financial position and allow us to reach new families that are not currently being served through the Scouting program.”

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The church has been the biggest participant in American Scouting, with approximately 425,000 Latter-day Saint youths in Cub and Boy Scout programs. Latter-day Saints account for about 19% of the BSA’s membership, which totals about 2.3 million, according to the Boy Scouts. The Latter-day Saint imprint on Scouting is even bigger in Utah, where more than 90% of participants belong to church-sponsored units.

Boy Scouts of America has been making changes on the national level to be more inclusive. On Feb. 1, the previously all-male group officially began accepting girls into its program for youths ages 11 through 17. To coincide with its new model, the Scouting program for youths in this age group has been renamed Scouts BSA.

In 2018, the organization began allowing girls to join the previously all-male Cub Scouts, for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. At that time about 20 girls joined Cubs in the Salt Lake Valley.

BSA voted in 2015 to admit openly gay leaders into its ranks. The LDS Church has allowed — and does allow — openly gay members to serve in church assignments, including Scouts, if these members are deemed to be living the faith’s standards of not acting on their same-sex attractions.

The BSA policy makes no such distinction between “openly gay” and “sexually active gay leaders," which troubled Latter-day Saint leaders.

“Our priority is to provide a strong Scouting program for the youth and communities we serve across Salt Lake City,” Downing said in a separate statement, emailed to The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. “We take all staffing decisions very seriously and we always consider what is best for our youth members, staff and volunteers.”

The decision, he wrote, “was the result of a careful reevaluation of our current needs and resources, and it puts us in a strong position to continue delivering the Scouting program in a way that best meets the needs of the communities we serve.”