Girl Scouts’ critics: Too extreme to succeed


Senior girl scout Jaca Gooding, 14, of Washington, joined the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital for the announcement of the date for Girl Scout Rock the Mall on June 17, 2011. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
Robert McCartney
Columnist February 22, 2012

Here’s an example of the “family values” encouraged by the smear campaign that some religious conservatives are waging against the Girl Scouts:

A 10-year-old girl offering to sell cookies in Reston around midday on Jan. 14 was stunned and upset when an adult neighbor responded by denouncing abortion.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

“When the woman answered the door, she looked at my daughter and said, ‘We don’t support Girl Scouts because they support abortion, which kills babies,’ ” recalled Kim Douglas, who’s been a troop leader as well as a Scout parent for four years.

“It left my daughter very shocked, confused,” Douglas said. “She said, ‘Mommy, something creepy happened to me.’ ”

Douglas’s daughter didn’t know what abortion was and didn’t ask, which is a relief. The mother said the neighbor had a right to her views, of course, but shouldn’t have shared them with a 10-year-old.

“She doesn’t look like a teenager. It was obvious she’s a kid,” Douglas said.

Douglas contacted me to relate the incident following my recent column describing endeavors to falsely portray the nation’s 3.2 million Girl Scouts as unwitting victims of a purported radical feminist conspiracy aimed in particular at promoting abortion and contraception. (The Scouts take no position on either.)

The disinformation efforts by conservative activists, conducted mainly on the Internet, have had some success.

In our region, as I reported earlier, a Roman Catholic church in Chantilly decided in January to stop sponsoring Girl Scout troops after the current school year. Some Catholic school parents in Alexandria are also considering severing ties.

Nationally, a self-described, “Christ-centered” alternative to Girl Scouts, called American Heritage Girls, says its membership has jumped from 13,000 in the summer to 18,000 today.

“Most of it is from people leaving the Girl Scouts,” said Patti Garibay, founder and national executive director of the 17-year-old group based in Cincinnati. “It does seem like Catholic membership is growing quickly.”

Despite such setbacks, I think the Girl Scouts will survive just fine, for two reasons. First, the Scouts are working hard to put out the facts, and have taken steps to assuage their critics. Also, some foes make a mockery of their own position by their extreme stances — such as assailing the Girl Scouts for having first lady Michelle Obama as honorary president.

After the Chantilly church’s decision, the local Girl Scout council held four public forums to clarify its stances: The council has no relationship with Planned Parenthood. It sends no money to the international scouting federation, which supports access to contraception.

Nationally, in a move that some Catholic leaders described as a positive gesture, the national Girl Scout organization last year named a Catholic, Anna Maria Chavez, as its new chief executive.

The Girl Scouts also altered its national literature to drop American playwright Josefina Lopez as an example of a woman who led an inspirational life. Lopez’s inclusion drew criticism because one of her plays, “Simply Maria,” satirizes the Catholic church.

But some of the critics’ other targets are so far-fetched as to be self-defeating. For example: A Web site hosted by the conservative group Family Watch International complains that Girl Scout literature offers as role models Frances Perkins, America’s first female Cabinet secretary; Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner; and Bette Midler, the singer and actress.

The site sends readers to a page that identifies Perkins as “lesbian,” Menchu as “Marxist” and Midler as “advocate for homosexual rights.”

The page does not mention that the same Girl Scout series also offers as role models Mother Teresa, Clara Barton and Sandra Day O’Connor.

Another over-the-top critic is Indiana state Rep. Bob Morris (R), who achieved instant notoriety Saturday for a letter condemning the Girl Scouts as a “radicalized” organization that promotes homosexuality. He said he was putting his two daughters in American Heritage Girls.

Here is my favorite line from Morris’s letter: “The fact that the Honorary President of Girl Scouts of America is Michelle Obama, and the Obamas are radically pro-abortion . . . should give each of us reason to pause.”

Every first lady since Edith Wilson in 1917 has been honorary president of the Girl Scouts. That includes Republicans Mamie Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush.

Indiana House Speaker Brian C. Bosma, also a Republican, openly ridiculed Morris and handed out Thin Mints to lawmakers in response, according to the Associated Press.

“I purchased 278 cases of Girl Scout cookies in the last four hours,” Bosma said sarcastically. He closed Tuesday’s session by asking the former Girl Scouts in the chamber to stand.

With backlash like that, the Girl Scouts should fend off their critics quite nicely. And even if you still dislike the organization’s policies, don’t take it out on a 10-year-old.

Robert McCartney will discuss local issues at 8:51 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM).

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