Target: Idaho Attorney General Wasden
Goal: Condemn Sheriff Ben Wolfinger for ending his sponsorship of the Boy Scouts of America in response to its decision to allow gay scouts.
Last Friday, Sheriff Ben Wolfinger of Kootenai County, Idaho, declared that his department would end its sponsorship of the Boy Scouts of America in response to the BSA’s recent decision to admit openly gay scouts. Sheriff Wolfinger stated that his department would be ending its charter with the BSA because “It would be inappropriate for the sheriff’s office to sponsor an organization that is promoting a lifestyle that is in violation of state law.” Sheriff Wolfinger also said that he sent a copy of the Idaho statutes criminalizing “sodomy” to Chris Peterson, executive director of the local chapter of the BSA and director of its Kootenai County programs.
Sheriff Wolfinger is misstating the law and misleading the public. All sodomy laws were declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 2003. By stating that this prejudiced law still has force, Sheriff Wolfinger is needlessly and cruelly terrorizing the LGBT citizens of Idaho, and misinforming the public. Even if the law were still valid, the sheriff would still be misstating the law, as it applies to acts, not sexual orientation, and to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. The Sheriff’s statement is not only wrong in regards to the validity and substance of his state’s sodomy law, but also in regards to the BSA’s policy. The Boy Scouts of America Executive Committee, in its recent decision to permit openly gay scouts, stated, “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.” Even if Idaho’s sodomy statutes were in force, the Boy Scouts would not be promoting illegal conduct.
Sheriff Wolfinger’s statements will cause the LGBT residents of his state to live in fear and may lead law enforcement to single them out under the mistaken belief that they are engaging in illegal activity. Uninformed or prejudiced law enforcement officers may use Idaho’s supposed criminalization of homosexuality to harass and persecute gay Idahoans. By causing LGBT Idahoans to fear law enforcement, Sheriff Wolfinger has hindered the enforcement of his state’s laws and destroyed the trust of his constituents.
The Sheriff’s statements also defame and malign the Boy Scouts of America at a time when they deserve commendation for ending their discriminatory exclusion of openly gay scouts. His statements falsely accuse the Boy Scouts of promoting illegal conduct, and could lead to undeserved contempt of an organization which deserves credit for finally accepting all young men.
Sheriff Wolfinger’s statements mislead the public, incite needless fear, expose an already vulnerable community to disdain and persecution, and slander a reputable organization that has greatly improved the lives of countless young men and made commendable progress towards full inclusion of all Scouts. Sheriff Wolfinger deserves to be publicly reprimanded for using a spurious interpretation of an invalidated law to justify his bigotry.
Dear Attorney General Wasden,
Sheriff Ben Wolfinger of Kootenai County recently stated that his department will no longer sponsor the Boy Scouts of America on the grounds that the BSA “is promoting a lifestyle that is in violation of the law”. Sheriff Wolfinger mailed copies of the state sodomy laws, I.C. §§ 18-6005 and 18-6006 (“Crimes Against Nature—Punishment”; “Crimes Against Nature—Penetration), to the executive director of the local Boy Scouts chapter to justify his decision. By doing so, Sheriff Wolfinger has mislead the public as to the state of the law, incited fear amongst his constituents, done injury to the peace he has sworn to uphold, and defamed a venerable institution. Sheriff Wolfinger deserves a public reprimand from your office.
The Sheriff’s statement about the law is wrong on several levels, and calls into question his knowledge of the laws he is entrusted with enforcing. Firstly, the statutes in question do not criminalize being homosexual; rather, they criminalize certain sexual acts, regardless of the sex or orientation of those engaging in them. That alone makes his statement, that the BSA is “promoting a lifestyle that is in violation of the law”, false and misleading.
His statement is doubly untrue in that the statutes he relies upon have been declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003). Even if the statutes involved applied exclusively to acts between persons of the same sex, they would have no legal authority, and any conviction under them would be inherently void. Finally, even if the statutes were still in force, the Boy Scout’s recent decision to admit openly homosexual scouts is not an endorsement or promotion of “a lifestyle in violation of the law”. The Boy Scouts of America Executive Committee, in its recent decision to permit openly gay scouts, stated, “Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting”. The Sheriff’s triply-false statement, at best, implies an inexcusable ignorance of the laws he is bound by oath to enforce, and at most a malicious disregard for the law and willingness to mislead the public.
A sheriff should not misrepresent the law to his constituents, especially not for the purpose of justifying his own personal prejudices. Sheriff Wolfinger has done more than that: he has perpetrated libel against the Boy Scouts of America, and all LGBT Idahoans, by falsely accusing them of criminal behavior. He owes both groups, and all the residents of Kootenai County, a public and unambiguous apology and a correction of his prior misstatements of the law. I urge your office to reprimand Sheriff Wolfinger for his false and defamatory statements, and demand that he apologize for his inexcusable and outrageous statements.
[You Name Here]