"I'm not a social scientist."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's first book is a defense of what he calls the traditional values of the Boy Scouts. In "On My Honor," the Republican governor writes about legal attempts to force the organization to accept gays and atheists into its ranks. He paints the Scouts as a bulwark against "nihilism" and "moral relativism" in the nation's "culture war."

An Eagle Scout and the father of an Eagle Scout, Perry stresses the importance of Scout values such as being "courteous and kind." (He is fond of phrases like "gosh" and "jiminy cricket.") He has received the Silver Antelope Award for outstanding service to the Scouts.

-- Libby Copeland

How old were you when you earned the Silver Antelope?

Gosh, quite an adult. In 2003.

And you wear it every day?

Unless I forget it. Which is rather rare.

What does it mean to you?

It is an affirmation that scouting still matters, that you can make a difference, that adults -- [a phone rings in the background] excuse me. I thought I had that thing cut off. [Pause.] We just cut off Phil Gramm.

I'll explain it to him -- that we were doing it for Boy Scouts.

When did you decide to write this book?

I did not get back engaged with scouting again until I was married and I had a son and knew that I wanted my son to be exposed to the values and characteristics that come from scouting. . . . So better than 10 years ago the idea of defending those values was percolating in my mind.

You see the Scouts as the first line of defense?

I do. They have been attacked -- and unfairly from my perspective -- by those secular humanists, the ACLU. They want to force their ideas and their beliefs upon the Scouts. And my pushback is, "Look, the Scouts have worked very fine for 100 years. . . . They don't need to espouse the values that you're espousing. Their value set is just fine."

You write that the problem with having openly gay Scout leaders is that "scouting is not about sex, but about building character." And I wanted to ask you what makes you think that an openly gay Scoutmaster would be inclined to, for example, tell Boy Scouts about his sex life any more than, say, a straight Scoutmaster?

I'm not sure that was my point.

Look, I agree with the right of individuals to choose their own sexual orientation. . . . But I don't believe that parents enroll their sons in Scouts to get a lesson on human sexuality. And if there is an openly gay Scoutmaster, the kids are going to talk about it.

Being gay: Choice? Not a choice? You referred to it as a choice.

I'm not a social scientist. I can't answer the question of, "Is it the environment that one finds oneself in or is it the way you're wired up when you are born?" I don't know. I do know this: that people have a choice to engage in that activity.

For instance, there's probably a debate that goes on about if you're an alcoholic you were born with that genetic trait. But every day, individuals realize that that is a trait that is not particularly good for their health, not good for their well-being and that it can be controlled with responsible behavior. And I would suggest that that is probably an argument that can be made for a host of genetically inclined disorders. If that in fact is where they come from.

You talk about the role of the ACLU in many of these suits. As you see it, the ACLU: intellectually honest? Or intellectually dishonest?

I think they're intellectually honest, and I totally respect their right to do what they do. I hope they respect my right to do what I do. . . . This attack on Scouts is a part of a larger cultural phenomenon. . . . The secularists want to sanitize the Pledge of Allegiance, our currency, our government buildings and Scout oath from any mention of God.

You interviewed a number of people about their experiences as Boy Scouts. . . . Whose experiences surprised you the most?

My instinct is [Ohio State University President] Gordon Gee. Gordon has been the president of Brown University, Vanderbilt University -- in a climate that basically would be substantially left of center. Yet he has remained true to those values. And I think the point here is just because you're a liberal doesn't mean that you can't be loyal, trustworthy and kind and obedient.

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