Yesterday, leaders from the Boy Scouts of America joined together for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Thomas S. Monson Leadership Excellence Complex that will be built at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, West Virginia. Sister Christofferson and I were invited to attend with Elder and Sister Holland, Brother Stephen W. Owen (Young Men General President), and Sister Joy D. Jones (Primary General President), and their spouses.
It was inspiring to be in such a beautiful place and to consider the important values that the Boy Scouts of America teach and which President Thomas S Monson has demonstrated throughout his life. “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Elder Jeffrey R Holland addressed the group at the groundbreaking, and President Monson spoke by video. I spoke at a luncheon following.
Of that luncheon, Jason Swensen, a reporter for the Church News, wrote that following the June 15th groundbreaking of the future Monson Leadership Complex, Elder Christofferson began his remarks by pointing out that President Monson has “long utilized leadership to serve and spiritually feed others.” He continued by quoting Elder Christofferson directly :
“That’s true character. It’s little wonder that over his 76 years of association with Scouting, President Monson has received every major award Scouting has to offer. Scouting, after all, has always been about recognizing and building character.”
Swenson explained the message further by pointing to the positive influence the Scouting movement has had in cultivating leadership skills and building the character of America’s youth, both which fit the new Monson Leadership Complex mission well. During remarks, Elder Christofferson said:
“We can’t fully imagine how many boys owe their lives to Scouting, and how many have made positive contributions to society because of the principles they learned in Scout troops. America is a stronger, better country because dedicated individuals — and that includes you here today — built and sustained the Scouting movement.”
In his address he said that the Boy Scouts of America, “and all the good its done, has depended on the oft-forgotten freedom of the right of ordinary citizens — guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — to form voluntary organizations.” This then became the central message of his address: “Freedom of association has been at the heart of Scouting since its inception, Indeed, without it, there can be no Scouting.” Swenson, who was there, reported it as follows:
There’s much talk these days about “new rights.”
“We are in the middle of a rights revolution. Sometimes the alleged new rights are important to correct injustices. But sometimes these supposed rights are little more than demands that government forces others to conform to society’s new moral preferences.”
The fundamental right of association is different, he declared.
“It protects the right of all Americans to create voluntary associations, and to infuse them with their own beliefs, meaning and purpose. If you don’t like someone else’s voluntary association, you can start your own. Like freedom of religion, freedom of association protects true diversity. In many ways, the right of association is the quintessential American right.”
There are some things government cannot do — and should not do, he said.
“Private and voluntary civic organizations made up of like-minded individuals who strongly believe in their cause are much better situated to bring forward new ideas or defend old ones, to develop the most persuasive arguments to support and explain those ideas, and to take action to galvanize the public to support them,” he said. “Consequently, civic organizations are essential to the free-exchange of ideas and to the broad discussion and debate that must occur if a society is to explore important and sometimes controversial concepts in a free and peaceful way.”
The right of association is essential to the very existence of civic organizations, he added. It empowers ordinary individuals. It produces social possibilities and amplifies free speech. “Within voluntary associations — from religious institutions to charitable organizations to civic groups like Scouting — people can refine their characters and find the meaning of their lives.”
The right to freely associate, declared Elder Christofferson, “is a great bulwark against tyranny.” It provides a buffer between the “private realm of one’s personal life and the mega-institutions of government and the marketplace.”
The Supreme Court, he added, has said that the Constitution protects the “right to associate with others in pursuit of a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious and cultural ends.”
Unfortunately, freedom of association is under assault.
Today the Boy Scouts of America — and many other similar organizations — face continued pressure from government and special interest groups to conform to newly emerging societal trends, he said. “In this environment, too much pressure is put on BSA to abandon its special mission as a civic organization created to imbed and perpetuate specific moral views. And there is too little support and appreciation for the crucial role that it and similar organizations play in society.”
Like freedom of association, freedom of religion is also enduring attack.
“Those two fundamental rights often lead to beliefs, morals, speech and ways of life that run counter to the dominant culture,” he said. “Those rights take power away from government and the elite and disperse it among many diverse and free institutions run by ordinary citizens. Those rights limit the power of the state to impose its orthodoxies and to punish dissent. Regrettably, those who wield power and influence are often suspicious of such freedoms and seek to limit them. And they have had substantial success over the past few years.”
Elder Christofferson concluded with a call to defend such vital freedoms such as association and religion.
Adapted from a report in Church News by Jason Swensen | Church News Staff Writer (used by permission)