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To learn more about the American Heritage Girls, go to www.ahgonline.org
Patti Garibay had never heard of Bob Morris when she and other Cincinnati-area Girl Scout parents sat around a kitchen table in 1995 and decided to create an alternative to an organization that had just placed an asterisk in its pledge allowing members to “replace the word ‘God' with whatever word your spiritual beliefs dictate.”
Jennifer Court wasn't motivated by this week's controversy when she and other parents created the first Fort Wayne chapter of the group Garibay now leads at St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church last month after a two-year planning process.
And Father James Seculoff of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Haven did his own research before deciding this week to consider whether his parish's Girl Scout troops should join St. Vincent's in the American Heritage Girls organization, which has 18,000 members and has grown by 40 percent in the past two years alone.
And yet, critics of Morris' refusal to sign an Indiana House of Representatives resolution recognizing the Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary would have you believe that the Fort Wayne Republican is perhaps the only person on the planet delusional enough to question the wholesomeness of an organization previously known for cookies, not controversy or contraception.
Is the national Girl Scouts organization really becoming “a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood,” as Morris stated in his letter to fellow representatives? Some of the claims he made on the basis of an admittedly small amount of web-based research may have been dubious, and certainly his language and criticism of honorary Girl Scouts of America President Michele Obama and his failure to distinguish local chapters from the national organization were inflammatory and unfair.
Morris later apologized for his tactics if not his sentiment, and he was right to do so because the backlash overshadowed his larger point: that people should do their homework before entrusting their time, money or children to organizations that may no longer deserve their Mom-and-apple-pie reputations.
Had Morris' critics spent less time sneering and more time investigating, they might have found that Girl Scouts of America CEO Kathy Cloninger did in fact acknowledge a relationship between her organization and Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provide, on national TV just last year.
They might have found that the women showcased at the GSA 100th anniversary celebration in Houston in November included advocates of gay and transgender rights, abortion and, according to the Washington Times, an advocate for a program “aimed at teaching adolescents how to assert their sexual and reproductive rights.”
They might also have discovered that the GSA's new “Journeys” program includes instruction on “global warming” – a concept so politically and scientifically questionable that even advocates have dumped it in favor of the more elastic “climate change.”
Now, none of that necessarily makes the Girl Scouts a radical or dangerous organization, especially at the local level. But it's undeniably true that progressives often seek influence over traditionalist groups, usually in the interest of "inclusiveness.” The Boy Scouts have been a frequent target of gay activists and atheists, for example, and other groups have faced similar pressure, often altering their original mission.
Parents have every right to instill such values in their children. But parents who disagree with such values have no less an obligation to their children.
The vision of the American Heritage Girls Morris endorsed, for example, explicitly embraces “Christian” values, and its oath begins with, “I promise to love God.” There is no asterisk and no apology, although Garibay said the organization has non-Christian members.
The organization accepts no public funds and does not meet in public buildings, minimizing its exposure to government or legal coercion. Maybe that's why Court and Garibay have both received numerous inquiries about membership following the firestorm Morris unwittingly ignited.
Even so, the Heritage Girls' executive director is not gloating.
“Controversy is never good for children, and a person should be able to be open about concerns like this without being ridiculed,” Garibay said. “Parents should investigate any group in which their children are involved.”
That's good advice – even when it invites condescension instead of reflection.