Homosexual activists in the Keystone State are blasting a public school principal simply because he is a Boy Scout leader…. the president of an organization that claims the Scouts practice discrimination by prohibiting homosexuals to be leaders said the school should not support the Scouts and should never have allowed them inside the building in their uniforms.
[From Homosexuals rip Penn. principal for wearing Boy Scout uniform (OneNewsNow.com)
The ostensible offense is that “the Scouts practice discrimination.” Is there not discrimination being practiced against the Scouts here, though? This Scout leader appeared on a local TV show featuring good deeds the Scouts had been doing. He was not representing the school, as far as we can tell from the report; when he’s in his Scout uniform, he is just a Scout leader who happens also to be a principal. And he got blasted for it. (It was students, not the principal, who wore their uniforms to school.)
“Discrimination” is typically used in one of two senses. The second, unfortunately, is becoming far more common than the first.
At its core it refers to making suitability judgments on the basis of factors deemed to be relevant to the issue at hand. For example, we discriminate against high school dropouts performing brain surgery. The word “discrimination” in this context always belongs in an extended clause: “wrongful or rightful discrimination on the basis of…” Whether it is right or wrong depends on whether the factors for discrimination are relevant. Character and skills are relevant. Skin color is not–unless you’re talking about hiring actors to play, say, George Washington, or George Washington Carver. Then, racial discrimination is based on relevant factors, and there’s nothing at all wrong with it.
Whether we ever had such a pure conception of how “discrimination” should be used, I do not know. I do know that as our culture was gaining awareness that racial discrimination was (almost always) wrong, we used the word “discrimination” by itself, without the rest of the extended clause, and everybody knew just what it meant. It was a useful abbreviation for the whole, because in that era, racial discrimination was the only kind that got much discussion.
Then the connotations of the word evolved toward the second sense of the term. It was, for a while, a specific label attached to a specific evil. By constant use in that context it became associated generally with evil–even though good and positive uses of the word still existed (as in high school dropouts and brain surgery). It gained an emotional overtone. Racial discrimination was and is truly wrong and evil. “Racial discrimination” was shorted to just “discrimination.” And then, “discrimination” by itself picked up the sense of being truly wrong and evil.
Concurrently and also following this evolution, “discrimination” became a word to be claimed especially by minority groups or groups who could claim they had been oppressed in some way similar to African-Americans. Often, in the early years of this process, these groups too were being wrongly discriminated against on the basis of irrelevant factors.
But then some minority groups–and I’m thinking especially of homosexual activists now–realized what they had available to them. Here was a word that evoked universally negative emotions, which the public was used to applying to minority groups. They could claim it for themselves, point to examples where they were being oppressed, and use it against anyone who stood against them.
But the Boy Scouts are a minority group, with considerably less political clout these days than the homosexual activists have. Attacks like this one on the Scout leader are surely a form of oppression. If “discrimination” just means separating out minority groups for oppressive treatment, then the homosexual activists are discriminating against the Scouts!
Actually, discrimination runs both directions: the Boy Scouts actually do discriminate against homosexuals in leadership. Homosexual activists actually and do discriminate against the Scouts. The word by itself tells us nothing about whether one group is right or the other is wrong. But somehow its emotional weight seems to land heavy on the Scouts when thrown their way. It’s because we react to the emotional tone of the word, instead of recalling what it really means.
Discrimination is wrong when it is based on irrelevant factors. The Scouts can make a case that for their character-building goals, sexual practice is relevant. I hope they also discriminate against openly promiscuous heterosexuals, too, though I don’t know how often this happens. There might be room for some argument there.
There is no room, though, for argument on this: homosexual activists cannot claim they are innocent of discrimination while the Scouts are guilty. Not unless they fill out the rest of the clause to show whether they’re discriminating based on relevant factors.
Related: Hijacking the Civil Rights Legacy
External: “Boy Scouts Must Endure, Says TX Governor“