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Do the Boy Scouts Want Female Participation or Lots of Money?

The organization has been slow to embrace social change, which has many questioning this recent decision.

Yesterday, the Boy Scouts made the massive announcement that girls will soon be allowed to participate in its full program, including becoming Cub Scouts and even earning the rank of Eagle Scout, the organization’s highest honor. But while many have celebrated this move as a win for gender equality, others are more suspicious about the Boy Scouts’ motive for letting girls join.

Critics have noted the most obvious and cynical reason the Boy Scouts would make this change: the organization is in financial trouble. Recently, the Boy Scouts have seen a decline in enrollment and an increase in the number of lawsuits from scouts who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of program-affiliated adults. The easiest way for the scouts to make money fast is by having new members sign up. And there is no quicker way to get a lot of sign-ups then by suddenly opening up membership to the half of the population you intentionally ignored in the past.

The Boy Scout of America currently faces a $21 million lawsuit for knowingly hiring a man who had previously sexually abused several underage boys. Separately, a former boy scout is suing the organization for a troop leader who sexually abused him for years. These are hardly the first sexual abuse the Boy Scouts have faced. Back in 2010, a former scout named Kerry Lewis was awarded $18 million after it was discovered that one of his scoutmasters had sexually abused him when he was younger. Of course, not all of the lawsuits are in regard to sexual abuse, as evidenced by the current lawsuit the Boy Scouts is facing from the bereaved parents of an Eagle Scout who died on a hike.

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What do these lawsuits have to do with the recent decision to allow girls to fully join the Boy Scouts? To handle these lawsuits and others, the organization has faced over the years, Boy Scouts of America has “stockpiled money in a ‘General Liability Insurance Fund’ to secure the organization against such claims.” To keep the fund full–especially with looming settlements or losses–the Boy Scouts needed to figure out ways to increase its earnings.

The organization is already planning on raising the annual membership fee from $24 to $33 and one Boy Scouts unit has already stated that “All of the funds generated from the increase will go directly to the National BSA General Liability Insurance Fund.” But considering that lawsuits forced the Boy Scouts to pay an estimated $42.8 million from its insurance program in 2016, it’s not completely unreasonable to wonder if the organization has finally embraced girls because it needs money.

Some will undoubtedly see this as an unfair reading of the motivations behind the decision to allow girls to join the Boy Scouts, but given the organization’s history of regressive politics (the Boy Scouts still do not allow open atheists to join and only began allowing gay and trans members after years of resistance), it’s not an unreasonable reading. That doesn’t make it correct, just plausible. It’s also possible that the organization really did have a change of heart and this is the first step towards the Boy Scouts making up for the mistakes of the past and building a better future. If so, it’s conveniently timed change of heart.