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Mary Sanchez: Girl Scouts unfairly trapped by politics

By Mary Sanchez Kansas City Star

One very busy St. Louis mother of five (soon to be six) adamantly believes that Girl Scouting is incompatible with being a good Catholic.

She wants you to think so, too.

Ann Saladin diligently works to publicize what she believes are links between Girl Scouting and the nefarious forces of abortion and birth control. Lately, she’s had a fair amount of success.

Saladin’s most recent coup is a decision by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to discontinue its parishes’ Girl Scouting programs. Last year, Saladin, a former high school teacher, helped persuade her own Archdiocese of St. Louis to urge parishes to cease hosting Girl Scout troops and activities. Other dioceses have been targeted by parents riled up by Saladin’s website,

The nature of the connection Saladin and other conservative Catholic activists see between Girl Scouting and abortion will be familiar to those who have played the parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” or who have read accounts of show trials. The connection, you see, doesn’t exist. But there’s plenty of guilt by association.

Various Girl Scout publications, it seems, have held up famous women as exemplars to girls. Women such as Madeleine Albright, Shirley Chisholm, Geraldine Ferraro, Dolores Huerta, Jane Goodall, Billie Jean King and America Ferrera. Women who, in addition to their advocacy of gender equality, also famously advocated for reproductive choice. Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan draw special disdain from the anti-Girl Scout activists.

Nowhere does the organization Girl Scouts of the USA take a position on abortion or birth control, nor does it endorse political candidates, but Saladin has called it out for the fact that Hillary Clinton, horror of horrors, visited with some Girl Scouts as she campaigned for the presidency.

Here’s a typical bromide from “Multiple local councils and Girl Scouts USA are promoting select women members of Congress as ‘Portraits in Leadership.’ Of the Congresswomen presented, over two-thirds consistently vote for pro-abortion legislation.”

The most tenuous “connection” between Girl Scouts of the USA and International Planned Parenthood Federation involves the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, an umbrella organization to which Girl Scouts of the USA pays dues. Whatever relationship WAGGGS may have with any advocacy group is not directly relevant to Girl Scouts of the USA, the U.S. scouting organization explains, since its membership is much like our country’s membership in the United Nations.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops studied the issue for two years, but it decided to leave the matter of proscribing Girl Scouting up to each diocese. All involved, including bishops who have decided to sever ties with Girl Scouting, have acknowledged the many good qualities of Girl Scouting and the fact that its leaders made changes in hopes of alleviating the concerns of Christian conservatives. For instance, Sarah Palin was added to curriculum – which Saladin says wasn’t done comprehensively enough.

This is a no-win for Girl Scouting because the opposition’s “concerns” are ginned up as part of an agenda it wishes to advance.

Ironically, it is one of Girl Scouting’s most positive attributes that tilled the soil for this attack. A secular organization, Girl Scouting has long been flexible to the changing needs of young women around the globe. Programming and emphasis can vary from troop to troop, with local dictates, individual scouts and their leaders making choices. This is why a troop in a parish might attend Mass together.

But this latitude also leaves room to believe that a Girl Scout somewhere is being led down a treacherous road to unholy immersion in human sexuality, contraception and abortion – all issues on which, again, Girl Scouts of the USA takes no position.

One Kansans for Life leader in the Kansas City area applauded the archbishop’s decision to cut ties by alleging, “It should come as no surprise that Planned Parenthood and abortion supporters would purposely infiltrate an organization of young girls and women they desire as future believers, and more importantly, future customers, which seems exactly what they set out to do.”

That is crazy talk.

Boy Scouts, interestingly, have not fallen under equal scrutiny, despite opening the organization in January to accepting transgender youths.

There is a crucial difference. Boys. Not girls. No innocent budding feminists to shield from hearing from the wrong women about a complicated world that too often subjugates women to second-class status.

Some bishops have promoted an organization called American Heritage Girls as a substitute for Girl Scouts. That may fill the void, more or less.

Yet the damage is that certain activist organizations are falsely maligning one of the world’s most long-standing, effective organizations dedicated to building girls’ courage, confidence and character. The passionate but misguided efforts undercut what the world needs more, not less, of: young women with the leadership skills Girl Scouting has tirelessly enhanced for more than 100 years.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for the Kansas City Star.

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