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Perry Takes Aim at Boy Scout Detractors

Rick Perry, governor of the nation’s second-largest state, has forsaken the typical memoir in his first book. Instead, the Texas Republican has chosen to focus on the Boy Scouts of America, defending the group’s traditional values and lashing out against organizations that oppose the Scouts’ conservative principles.

“The Scouts weren’t looking for trouble, the trouble found them,” Perry, an Eagle Scout, said in an interview. “People need to know what’s going on here, which is why I wrote the book.”

The first-time author calls “On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For” a tribute to his lifelong dedication to the Boy Scouts, including his service as the leader of his son’s troop in the 1990s. “That’s when the seeds of this book were actually sown,” Perry said.

“On My Honor” in part is a nostalgic recollection of Perry’s scouting days in the West Texas community of Paint Creek. Perry said Troop 48 instilled in him a sense of obedience and loyalty, along with a strong work ethic. “The Boy Scouts didn’t hand out badges for trying,” he writes. “They handed out badges for getting the job done.”

While “On My Honor” is peppered with heartwarming tales of merit badges and Cub Scout hikes, the bulk of the 226-page book takes aim at the outside groups and individuals who have filed lawsuits against the Scouts, objecting to the group’s boys-only membership requirement and policy of banning homosexuals from leading Boy Scout troops. With each case, Perry writes, the Scouts are fighting “the culture war for America’s soul.”

A southern politician defending an all-American tradition is not much of a stretch, and in defending the Boy Scouts, Perry has not strayed from the recipe for success. Right beside mom and apple pie, the Boy Scouts are a symbol of American values that many of Perry’s southern Republican supporters can rally behind. And taking a shot at the American Civil Liberties Union never hurts either.

Perry, who was in Washington, D.C., last week for the National Governors Association winter meeting, also interviewed a handful of elected officials and business leaders in writing the book to help make the case that public service is central to the Boy Scouts’ mantra.

In his interview with Perry, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the Boy Scouts “the foremost vehicle for teaching young men about values and the importance of character.” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), one of10 Eagle Scouts serving in the Senate, told Perry that working toward a life goal is just like earning a merit badge. “I learned [that lesson] when I flunked my first try for the Civics merit badge,” the five-term Senator quips in the book.

The book details some of the lawsuits the Scouts have defended with mixed results over the past three decades. The first suit against the Boy Scouts of America was filed in 1976 by an Oregon girl who was denied membership in her local Cub Scout Pack. Since then the Scouts have defended themselves in 30 cases at levels from county district court to the Supreme Court.

“The long-running volley of lawsuits challenging Scouting’s traditions [is] part of a much larger phenomenon, a ‘culture war’ between determined secularists and the traditional values of American society,” Perry writes.

Perry is especially passionate when writing about the ACLU, the free-speech advocacy organization that has raised objections to the Scouts on several fronts. The group has represented individuals objecting to the Scout Oath, which pledges a “duty to God,” and the ban on allowing homosexuals to lead Scout troops. In each case, Perry writes, the ACLU is pushing “a larger movement to redefine American values.” He defends the Scouts’ position that “a homosexual who makes his sex life a public matter is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath,” and he maintains the group teaches its young Scouts to be tolerant while upholding their own moral standard.

Perry said the timing of his book, which came out in late January, was not meant to coincide with the heat of the primary election season, though it is a fortunate coincidence. “I’ll use any catalyst I can to help the book,” Perry said, noting that he’ll be campaigning for presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), this week in the runup to Texas’s March 4 primary. While the decorated war veteran and presidential aspirant was not an Eagle Scout, Perry said he still has an ally in the Arizona Republican. “Sen. McCain doesn’t need to be whispered to on this issue. He totally gets it,” Perry said.

Proceeds from Perry’s book will go to the Boy Scouts of America.

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