Controversy: Read, Write And Scout

Former Eagle Scout Clint Lawton stopped pursuing a business major when he learned that Brigham Young University offered a new major: Scouting. "I thought, 'Oh, you can get paid to do Boy Scouts?' "

Gay-rights groups don't share his enthusiasm. They say the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which runs the university, is already the moving force behind the Boy Scouts of America's policy not to permit "avowed homosexuals." Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a former Utah Boy Scout, says the new major was more evidence of the church's "insidious" efforts to take over the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts are the official boys' youth group of the LDS, and more than one in nine Scouts are Mormons. Critics say the church exerts disproportionate influence through membership on the national advisory council and vigorous fund-raising. (In New York, LDS leaders recently launched a fund-raising campaign with pamphlets carrying an endorsement from the church's current prophet.) Boy Scout spokesman Greg Shields says that while Mormons are an important part of Scouting, "we've worked very hard at becoming a diverse organization." Nevertheless, the no-gay policy is a major factor in declining Scout enlistments. In Philadelphia, the nation's third largest council is about to be evicted from its city-owned headquarters over its discrimination policy.

Scouting major Lawton is nonplused. He says that while he believes "someone can be gay and it's totally cool, it's against what Scouting believes." And now he's after his biggest merit badge yet--a Scouting degree.