Parenting

Family Sues Boy Scouts for 'Discrimination' Because Down Syndrome Son 'Can't' Reach Eagle Scout

Logan Blythe, 15, smiles during an interview at VF Law in Salt Lake City, Utah. Logan has Down syndrome and lost his merit badges and his shot at becoming an Eagle Scout because of discriminatory policies, a lawsuit says. (Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

A Utah family sued the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for discrimination against their Down syndrome son after the national organization insisted standards would not be substantially relaxed for disabled boys. The parents argued that by making it harder for their son to reach the rank of Eagle Scout, the organization was effectively excluding disabled children.

The case centers around 15-year-old Logan Blythe, a scout with Down syndrome who had been awarded merit badges from the local Boy Scout chapter and had applied to the national organization for approval on his Eagle Project, the ultimate hurdle a boy must cross before attaining the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout. The national organization denied his application, and insisted he meet the full requirements for the project and for his previous merit badges.

A spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts, Effie Delimarkos, explained that while a few accommodations might be possible, the ultimate standards would not be relaxed for disabled children, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The spokeswoman said that only about 6 percent of scouts obtain the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.

“It is the highest rank. It is very prestigious, but it’s not by any means the only way to experience the program and to benefit from the program,” Delimarkos said.

Despite the national organization’s decision on Blythe’s Eagle Scout project, he is just as welcome in the BSA as anyone else. “In fact, he was recognized at a special event in January to celebrate his commitment and love of Scouting,” Delimarkos added.

She said the organization offered the Blythe family “a path to earning alternative merit badges based on [Logan’s] abilities,” as well as additional time to complete the requirements. Delimarkos insisted that the policies requiring all scouts to earn their merit badges by going through the same or a similar process as all others promote equity.

Even if scouts fall short of earning badges, or ultimately the Eagle Scout rank, the program still yields concrete benefits for young men.

The Blythes moved from Illinois to Utah four years ago, seeking better schooling for Logan. The boy’s parents, Diane and Chad, told the Tribune they have watched their son grow “by leaps and bounds.” Logan Blythe’s speech and dexterity improved, and in the Boy Scouts he found an accepting group of friends, his father Chad explained.

The boy had earned medals for swimming at the Special Olympics, the only other place where he found a welcoming peer group.

In this context, Chad Blythe argued that the national organization’s decision amounts to discrimination against his son.

The program allowed Logan Blythe to test his strengths, his mother Diane said. The parents reported being shocked and surprised at his ability to tie knots for a badge, and were impressed when he started a campfire.

“We don’t know what his abilities are until we test them,” the mother said. “That’s what’s fun about these different things.”

The lawsuit alleges there is a rift between the national Boy Scout organization and its local Utah chapters on the issue of disabled boys achieving merit badges and the esteemed rank of Eagle Scout.

One of the Blythes’ attorneys, Ted McBride, alleged that the national policy “is now narrowly limited to the intellectually disabled.”

“They’re being caught between their moral values and ethics versus the [national] Boy Scouts,” McBride said. He suggested that since the BSA recently changed policies to allow girls who identify as boys and openly homosexual boys and leaders to participate in Boy Scouting, the organization should also open its doors to disabled boys.

“What are they fighting for? I don’t understand,” McBride said.

In a word, Delimarkos and the national BSA are fighting for integrity — the standardized value of merit badges and the rank of Eagle Scout.

Perhaps it is ironic for an organization that opened its doors to biological girls who identify as boys in an effort to promote transgender inclusion to draw a line in the sand on merit badges and Eagle Scout standards. Even so, such a stance is essential in order for the prestigious rank to maintain its value.

Seemingly unable to understand the importance of this kind of integrity, McBride suggested that the alleged division between local BSA leaders and the national organization had something to do with Mormonism. Local leaders’ sense of right and wrong is fueled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he suggested.

The national organization, in contrast, is not “showing intellectually disabled members the same tolerance one would expect from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Despite this suggestion of a moral breach, the disabled boy’s father actually pointed to another explanation: some Mormon communities seem to take the rank of Eagle Scout for granted.

“The LDS Church has a major role with Boy Scouts in Utah,” the Tribune reported. “For Mormons, Chad Blythe said, having a child become an Eagle Scout is almost akin to the child graduating high school.”

Mormons have high standards for their children, and given the high levels of commitment demanded by the Church of Latter-day Saints, it stands to reason that most Mormon boys in Boy Scouts reach the rank of Eagle Scout — not because the rank is not hard to achieve, but because Mormon boys and their families are dedicated to the necessary hard work to achieve it.

Even so, this culture where most boys reach the rank of Eagle Scout might have increased the pressure for the Blythes to consider roadblocks to the prestigious rank tantamount to discrimination keeping their son from fully participating in the organization.

Within the Mormon church, when a child becomes an Eagle Scout that signifies that he or she (the Tribune‘s words) was “raised right,” Chad Blythe said, using air quotes.

“After years of being told their son couldn’t do things other kids could, and knowing he’d never achieve many rites of passage within the LDS Church, such as going on a proselytizing mission, the Blythes said scouting appeared to be one of the few things he could do,” the Tribune reported.

Learning that Eagle Scout may indeed be unattainable for their son, the family responded with a discrimination lawsuit. It is indeed tragic that Logan Blythe, who sounds like an inspiring young man, may not be able to achieve the prestigious rank as soon as possible. Even so, the rank of Eagle Scout should mean something, and the national BSA has every right to defend the integrity of the organization’s most important rank.

Logan Blythe is more than welcome in scouting, and from her comments, it sounds like Delimarkos hopes the Down syndrome boy achieves the rank of Eagle Scout. If he achieves this rank despite its difficulty, his victory will mean that much more — and the integrity of the Eagle Scout rank will not take a hit.

The BSA’s action in this case is nothing like discrimination. Rather than suing the Boy Scouts of America, the Blythes should push their impressive son to keep reaching new heights. If he reaches Eagle Scout, he will be all that much more impressive. If he does not, he still has an inspiring story and close friends gained through scouting.