Boy Scouts offers 'sincere apologies' to those offended by Trump's speech at Jamboree
NEW YORK (AP/Sinclair Broadcast Group) — The Boy Scouts of America anticipated President Donald Trump would spark controversy with a politically tinged speech at its national jamboree in West Virginia but felt obliged to invite him out of respect for his office, its leader said Wednesday in his first public comments on the furor over Trump's remarks.
"If I suggested I was surprised by the president's comments, I would be disingenuous," Boy Scouts of America president Randall Stephenson, who's also the CEO of AT&T, said in a phone call with The Associated Press.
Other U.S. presidents have addressed past jamborees with speeches steering clear of partisan politics. To the dismay of many parents and former scouts, Trump, a Republican, promoted his political agenda and assailed his enemies in his speech Monday evening, inducing some of the more than 30,000 scouts in attendance to boo at the mention of Barack Obama, his Democratic predecessor.
On Thursday, BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh issued a formal apology to "Scouting family" members bothered by Trump's remarks Monday.
"I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent," he wrote before outlining the organization's nonpartisan history.
Surbaugh continued, "We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program. While we live in a challenging time in a country divided along political lines, the focus of Scouting remains the same today as every day."
Read the full apology below:
In the last two weeks, we have celebrated the best of Scouting at our 20th National Jamboree with nearly 40,000 participants, volunteers, staff and visitors. The 2017 National Jamboree has showcased and furthered the Scouting mission by combining adventure and leadership development to give youth life-changing experiences. Scouts from Alaska met Scouts from Alabama; Scouts from New Mexico met those from New York, and American youth met youth from 59 other countries.
Over the course of ten days, Scouts have taken part in adventures, learned new skills, made new and lasting friendships and completed over 200 community service projects that offered 100,000 hours of service to the community by young men and women eager to do the right thing for the right reasons.
These character-building experiences have not diminished in recent days at the jamboree – Scouts have continued to trade patches, climb rock walls, and share stories about the day’s adventures. But for our Scouting family at home not able to see these real moments of Scouting, we know the past few days have been overshadowed by the remarks offered by the President of the United States.
I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent. The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition that has been extended to the leader of our nation that has had a Jamboree during his term since 1937. It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.
While we live in a challenging time in a country divided along political lines, the focus of Scouting remains the same today as every day.
Trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness and bravery are just a few of the admirable traits Scouts aspire to develop – in fact, they make up the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
As part of our program’s duty to country, we teach youth to become active citizens, to participate in their government, respect the variety of perspectives and to stand up for individual rights.
Few will argue the importance of teaching values and responsibility to our youth — not only right from wrong, but specific positive values such as fairness, courage, honor and respect for others.
For all of the adventure we provide youth such as hiking, camping and zip-lining, those activities actually serve as proven pathways and opportunities to develop leadership skills and become people of character.
In a time when differences seem to separate our country, we hope the true spirit of Scouting will empower our next generation of leaders to bring people together to do good in the world.
Yours in Scouting,
During Thursday afternoon's White House press briefing, NBC News' Kristen Welker asked White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether Trump owed the Boy Scouts an apology.
Sanders answered, "I was at that event and I saw nothing but roughly 40-45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks. And I think they were pretty excited that he was there and happy to hear him speak to them."
When further pressed by Welker, Sanders said she hadn't yet seen Surbaugh's statement and reiterated the Jamboree crowd was one of the most energetic she'd seen in front of Trump.
Stephenson noted that every U.S. president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been invited to address the jamboree and said the Boy Scouts leadership gave "a lot of thought about Donald Trump coming to speak."
"Anyone knows his speeches get highly political — we anticipated that this could be the case," Stephenson said. "Do I wish the president hadn't gone there and hadn't been political? Of course."
Hoping to minimize friction, the Boy Scouts of America, which is based in Irving, Texas, issued what Stephenson called "stringent guidelines" to adult staff members for how the audience should react to the speech.
"You can help make the president's visit a success by ensuring that any reactions to the president's address are, as we state in our Scout Law, friendly, courteous, and kind," the guidance said. "This includes understanding that chants of certain phrases heard during the campaign (e.g. 'build the wall,' 'lock her up') are considered divisive by many members of our audience, and may cause unnecessary friction between individuals and units.
"Please help us ensure that all Scouts can enjoy this historical address by making sure that your troop members are respectful not only of the president, but of the wide variety of viewpoints held by Scouts and Scouters in the audience tonight," the guidance said.
Stephenson, who was not in attendance at Trump's speech, said the guidance wasn't followed impeccably.
"There were some areas where perhaps they were not in compliance with what we instructed," he said. "There's probably criticism that could be leveled."
Stephenson has been a senior Boy Scout official through several of its recent controversies, including decisions to admit gay and transgender youths as scouts and to accept openly gay adults as unit leaders. He said he wasn't surprised by the negative reactions to Trump's speech.
"We anticipated there might be some people upset," he said.
Would the Scouts invite Trump back to address the next national jamboree if he wins re-election?
"I don't see why we would break with tradition, whoever is holding office," Stephenson said. "We are not to going to censor or edit the president of the United States. That's beyond our pay grade regardless of who it is."
The controversy occurred as AT&T, which is based in Dallas, is seeking the approval of Trump administration regulators for its proposed $85 billion purchase of Time Warner.