A Girl Scout in California last week drew quite a bit of attention last week after she came up with a very clever marketing ploy. The 13-year-old entrepreneur had the bright idea of selling Girl Scout cookies near a marijuana dispensary, where she sold 117 boxes in two hours.
And so, if you heard some recent complains from the right about the Girl Scouts, you might have thought it had something to do with this nontraditional cookie strategy. But as is it turns out, conservatives are actually complaining about the Girl Scout for entirely different reasons.
During the controversy over Chick-fil-A’s stance on gay rights issues, Fox News pundit Todd Starnes said that people boycotting the restaurant chain are “un-American” and warned that “the days of persecution are upon us.”
A few hours after Fox News’ Todd Starnes endorsed a boycott of the Girl Scouts, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly complained on his show about the “homosexual overtones” surrounding a Girl Scout spokesperson.
It may seem odd, if not ridiculous, to think Girl Scouts could be at the center of a culture war, but this has been going on for a while.
We last talked about this a couple of years ago, but the push seemed to begin in earnest in 1994, when James Dobson’s Focus on the Family published a memorable attack on the Girl Scouts, insisting the group “lost their way” after the Scouts made a religious oath optional for membership.
I also remember a 2005 piece from Amanda Marcotte, which doesn’t seem to be online anymore, but which documented various conservatives complaining about “radical lesbian feminists” having taken over the Girl Scouts.
At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find offensive, as well as assertions that the Scouts associate with other groups espousing stances that conflict with church teaching. The Scouts, who have numerous parish-sponsored troops, deny many of the claims and defend their alliances.
The inquiry coincides with the Scouts’ 100th anniversary celebrations and follows a chain of other controversies.
Earlier this year, legislators in Indiana and Alaska publicly called the Scouts into question, and the organization was berated in a series aired by a Catholic broadcast network. [In 2011], the Scouts angered some conservatives by accepting into a Colorado troop a 7-year-old transgender child who was born a boy but was being raised as a girl.
Some of the concerns raised by Catholic critics are recycled complaints that have been denied by the Girl Scouts’ head office repeatedly and categorically. It says it has no partnership with Planned Parenthood, and does not take positions on sexuality, birth control and abortion.
Gladys Padro-Soler, the Girl Scouts’ director of inclusive membership strategies, told the AP at the time, “It’s been hard to get the message out there as to what is true when distortions get repeated over and over.”
Conservative criticism of the Girl Scouts became so common that Comedy Central responded with the appropriate derision: “Don’t be fooled by those cute little outfits or merit badges. The Girl Scouts aren’t just selling you a pack of cookies – they’re selling you a pack of lies, with a light coating of toasted coconut communism. Why do the Girl Scouts teach survival skills? It’s clearly an attempt to build some kind of liberal tween militia. Volunteering and ‘helping’ others? Just another strategy to mobilize the working poor and other key Democratic voting blocs.”
The piece, which was published in 2011, was obviously sarcastic. But the right’s preoccupation with the Girl Scouts still hasn’t gone away.