During every election season, council newsletters and district roundtable commissioners remind Scouters of the rules for participating in political events. In a nutshell, it’s okay for BSA units to present the colors at a political rally so long as they leave before the speechifying begins. Individuals are free to stay and cheer (or boo), but they must change out of uniform before doing so. The point is to make sure Scouting doesn’t appear to be supporting one candidate or party over another, which could easily happen if a troop hung around and formed part of the human backdrop for a candidate’s speech. (You can learn much more about what to do and what not to do in this Bryan on Scouting post from July.)
If you think this rule is silly or unnecessary, consider the case of the Rev. Faith Green Timmons, pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich. Earlier this month, Timmons invited Donald Trump to stop by her church to thank volunteers who have helped out during the long-running Flint water crisis. Trump did stop by, but instead of thanking the volunteers, he started giving a campaign speech. Timmons interrupted him and he later criticized her in the press, generating the wrong kind of headlines about the visit.
Now that was just one encounter with one unusual candidate, but I think it demonstrates the importance of Scouters steering clear of politicians. Regardless of party, they;ll look for any angle to win votes and are happy to be seen with those who will burnish their images, whether that’s first responders, wounded veterans, or Boy Scouts.
As Americans, we’re free to support the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, or even the Bud Light party (which I have to admit seems like a lot more fun than those other groups!). As Scouters, we have a responsibility to protect the BSA’s reputation for non-partisanship and to avoid making the wrong kind of headlines.
When in doubt, remember George Bernard Shaw’s immortal words: “‘Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”