Sadly, history often repeats itself, especially when it comes to discrimination. The debate over the Boy Scouts of America’s now-postponed decision about whether to end a blanket ban on gay scouts is just another example — and a number of Texas politicians have chosen to put their names clearly on the wrong side of history.
More than six decades ago, in 1956, scores of white southern politicians (nearly all of them Democrats) signed on to the so-called “Southern Manifesto” attacking the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling against racially segregated schools two years earlier. Ultimately, 101 elected officials — 19 Senators and 82 House members — signed the Manifesto. All were from states that had been part of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Among the signers was Senator Price Daniel of Texas.
The Manifesto’s words have become only more odious over time. Beyond its claims that the Brown v Board of Education decision was an “abuse of judicial power” and a threat to states’ rights, the document defended the discredited principle of “separate but equal” and the right of states to enforce that principle in education — both concepts that had been upheld by previous Supreme Court decisions. The Manifesto appealed to tradition and custom:
“This interpretation, restated time and again, became a part of the life of the people of many of the states and confirmed their habits, customs, traditions and way of life. It is founded on elemental humanity and common sense, for parents should not be deprived by Government of the right to direct the lives and education of their own children.”
And it promoted falsehoods and irrational fear:
“This unwarranted exercise of power by the court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the states principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through ninety years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.”
The names of 101 politicians defending those words and the evil institutions of segregation and racial discrimination were attached permanently to a document that most Americans today see as loathsome.
Similarly, the names of more than 40 elected officials in Texas will be permanently fixed to a similar defense of discrimination. The far-right group Texas Values (part of Liberty Institute) asked elected officials to sign on to a letter calling on the Boy Scouts of America to continue discriminating against gay scouts. The signers in this case appear to be all Republicans and include at least two statewide officeholders as well as state senators and members of the state House of Representatives. As with the Southern Manifesto, the letter appeals to tradition in its defense of discrimination. But those appeals go even further, essentially arguing that those who want to let gays into
schools the Boy Scouts are rejecting “God, duty and country”:
“As state elected officials, we strongly encourage the Boy Scouts of America to stick with their decades of support for family values and moral principles. Capitulating to the liberal social agenda not only undermines the very principles of scouting, but sets the stage for the erosion of an organization that has defined the American experience for generations of young men.
Scouts begin each meeting with an Oath, ‘to do my duty, to God and my country, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.’ By caving in to pressure from the social left, the national leadership would violate each of those principles.”
And like the Southern Manifesto, the Texas Values letter appeals to fear:
“Worse still, the contemplated national policy would throw to the wolves chartering organizations and scout troops that choose to stick with scouting’s historic and legally protected policy. Left to defend themselves from legal attacks, we fear many churches and other entities will choose to simply abandon scouting altogether – it will be the safer course, and one hastening the organization’s eventual collapse.
Rest assured that while adopting this ill-considered and wrongly devised policy might earn temporary kudos, you can never do enough to appease those who want to see the scouts robbed of their moral authority.
We urge you to be morally and physically strong. We urge you to protect all that scouting has been, and all that it can remain.”
The signers of the Southern Manifesto in 1956 thought they would be remembered as heroes and defenders of freedom (and the “white race”) against the march of change and racial integration. The signers of the Boy Scouts letter likely see themselves in a similar way today. Yet it seems clearer now than it probably did in 1956 how history will ultimately judge those who stand in defense of hate and discrimination.