When I was nine, I was a Girl Scout. Clad in the trademark green sash, I sold cookies outside grocery stores and sang songs by summer campfires. Like most things from elementary school, scouting didn't stick with me for long, but I did retain my fair share of homemade crafts and fond memories. (My mother, a veteran Scout, and her mother, currently one of 800,000 adult Scout volunteers, saw to that.)
Amid the recent sea of headlines about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Girl Scouts of the USA surprisingly became the latest addition to the list of apparent church adversaries. Announced in May, the USCCB is investigating claims that the GSUSA has ties with Planned Parenthood and is otherwise affiliated with a liberal agenda.
Though the GSUSA enjoys favorable public opinion and mainly garners media attention because of its addictively delicious Thin Mints, the Scouts do provoke the occasional conservative critic. Last winter, the historic decision of the Colorado Girl Scouts to insist a local troop welcome a transgender girl provoked backlash and demands for a cookie boycott from anti-LGBT groups who had already long disliked the organization's openness to all women and girls regardless of sexual orientation.
The GSUSA, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary and boasts a membership of 2.3 million girls grades K-12, has set the record straight, standing by its inclusive policies but denying sensationalist rumors. While local troops have the discretion to tackle "sensitive issues" with parent permission, the accusations that the Girl Scouts scandalize young children with provocative materials is untrue and bizarre, not to mention played-out; the concerns cited by the USCCB attempt to revive isolated controversies from 2004 and 2010 that have since been addressed and dismissed.
The baseless nature of the inquiry by the USCCB is almost as ridiculous as the fact that the Catholic Bishops have taken it upon themselves to police a secular organization to begin with. Though the GSUSA cultivates a faith-friendly atmosphere and local troops frequently cooperate with religious groups, it is not a Catholic institution. About one quarter of Girl Scouts do identify as Catholic, but that hardly makes the USCBB the supreme authority on how the GSUSA should operate.
Since the Bishop's criticisms are clearly unfounded and make use of trite anti-feminist rhetoric, it may seem a silly topic to focus on. However, considered in tandem with the USCCB's current effort to undermine the Leadership Conference for Women Religious and its "radical feminist themes," the attack on Girl Scouts becomes part of patronizing trend that seeks to discredit programs that empower women to be independent leaders. That is not "religious freedom". That is fear of strong women. Women who work together, be it to sell cookies or sing songs or make the world a better place.
Which, incidentally, is what Girl Scouting is all about.