Girl Scouts under scrutiny from Catholic bishops
Conservative criticism of alleged Girl Scouts policy on sexuality, birth control, and abortion pulls the organization back into the culture wars with an investigation by Catholic bishops. It's not the first time the girls have been caught in political crossfire.
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Another complaint involved a Girl Scout blog suggesting that girls read an article about Chavez — who is Catholic — in Marie Claire magazine. Critics said the blog's link led to a Marie Claire home page promoting, among other items, a sex advice article.Skip to next paragraph
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The Girl Scouts' website addresses some of the recurring criticisms.
"Parents or guardians make all decisions regarding program participation that may be of a sensitive nature," it says.
And although it's a secular organization, the Girl Scouts embrace partnerships with religious groups. Scouts can earn a "My Promise, My Faith" pin for activities linked to their religious beliefs.
The Girl Scouts have been entangled in the culture wars as far back as the 1970s, when some conservatives became irked by the prominence of feminists such as Betty Friedan in the organization's leadership.
In 1993, Christian conservatives were outraged when the Girl Scouts formalized a policy allowing girls to substitute another word for "God" — such as Allah or Buddha – in the Girl Scout promise that reads: "On my honor, I will try to serve God and my country."
Among the disgruntled was Patti Garibay, a troop leader in Cincinnati who'd raised three daughters as Girl Scouts. In 1995, she founded the American Heritage Girls, which calls itself a "Christ-centered" alternative and now claims 19,000 members in 45 states.
Ms. Garibay said many of the newest members are from Catholic families disenchanted with the Girl Scouts.
One uneasy Catholic parent is Jody Geenen of West Bend, Wis., a troop leader for the past 14 years as her three daughters – now 18, 14 and 12 – became Girl Scouts.
She complains about some program materials adopted by the Girl Scouts in recent years. One example she gave: a patch honoring Hispanic labor organizer Dolores Huerta, whose shortcomings – in the eyes of some Catholics – include a 2007 award from Planned Parenthood.
Ms. Geenen hopes the Scouts will change their ways. "I love the Girl Scouts," she said. "But it can't remain the way it is."
American Heritage Girls signed a memorandum of mutual support in 2009 with the Boy Scouts of America, and some local units conduct joint activities. The Boy Scouts have no equivalent pact with the Girl Scouts, and the two organizations have, to an extent, become polarized ideologically.
Even in the face of criticism, the Boys Scouts stand by their policy of excluding atheists and barring gays from leadership roles. The Girl Scouts have no such policies.
"When you have a leadership brand like Girl Scouts, it's natural that we would have some critics," said Chavez. "We're proud of our inclusive approach because that is what has always made this organization strong."
Girl Scout controversies surfaced recently in two state legislatures.
In Indiana, Rep. Bob Morris wrote to his colleagues depicting the Girl Scouts as a radical group that promotes abortions and homosexuality. He later apologized for "reactionary and inflammatory" comments, but stood by his contention that the Scouts have links with Planned Parenthood.
In Alaska, Rep. Wes Keller – before deciding whether to support a resolution honoring the Girl Scouts – said he needed to investigate information "floating around the Internet" about the alleged Planned Parenthood link. Keller later said he was convinced the rumors were baseless; the resolution passed unanimously.