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For more than a century, the Mormon church has had a close association with the Boy Scouts of America. For many Mormons, putting on a uniform and joining a troop has become a rite of passage. The church, which covers the cost for congregations, is the biggest sponsor of troops in the nation.

The two organizations have nurtured millions of boys through closely aligned values of faith, leadership and service to one's community.

That's why we're troubled that the church has decided to pull as many as 185,000 older teens from the Irving, Texas-based organization to start its own scouting-like program, a more simplified one more tailored to Mormons ages 14 to 18. (About 300,000 younger boys will remain in Scouts while the new program is being developed.)

Officials insist that the move wasn't triggered by the Boy Scouts' wise decision to allow gay troop leaders or transgender males. But it comes just two years after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it was "deeply troubled" by the troop leader decision and considered pulling out then.

To most observers and a leading Mormon scholar, it's clear that the policy on gays contributed to the split. The church teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

We respect the Mormon church's right to instill values in young people in the ways it deems best. But we worry that this sends a bad message all the way around, especially to young Mormon boys. If they are gay, it says they are to be shunned. And if they're not, it says it's OK to shun those who are.

And it's a shame that the move weakens the Scouts. After years of declines, the organization has recently showed signs of stabilizing as it charted a new course on some social issues. We've applauded its sound decisions — including its acceptance of gay members four years ago — to finally give up old biases and adapt to a world that is rapidly rejecting such prejudices.

Its core tenets embrace good citizenship, respect and compassion toward all. Exclusion is not consistent with those principles.

What's more, the policies were crafted in deference to churches and other religious organizations, such as the Mormon church, that sponsor troops. They allow them to select leaders without regard to sexual orientation but don't require them to.

No one is trying to change the church's teachings. But surely the church wants boys to learn they can be a part of organizations doing good things in communities even if they have different views.

We urge the church to reconsider its decision. The fabric of our society requires engagement — the kind of rich and strong collaboration the Mormons and the Boy Scouts have enjoyed for decades.

U.S. Scouts and Mormons

130,000-185,000 U.S Mormon boys 14 to 18 slated to pull out of Boy Scouts next year
280,000-330,000 Mormon boys age 8 to 13 will remain in Scouts while a new program developed
2.3 million U.S. youths in Boy Scouts
15.8 million total number of Mormons, nearly 6 in 10 of them outside the U.S. and Canada
348,130 Mormons in Texas
40,063 scouts in Circle Ten Council that includes Dallas, Rockwall, Collin and 21 other counties

SOURCES: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Boys Scouts of America

— The Dallas Morning News, May 16

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