Punishing United Way will hurt the entire community

Choose your battles wisely. How many times did your mother tell you that?

No, this is not another commentary on the heated presidential election and threats of legal battles that might entangle the nation for weeks or months. We’re talking about the local United Way decision to revise its discrimination policy and the public’s reaction to it.

Letters to the editor about the Boy Scouts and gays started trickling in as soon as the Supreme Court gave its ruling back in June. The local debate heated up when United Way entered the picture. Recently, the Snohomish County United Way chapter announced it has revised its discrimination policy and it looks like the Mount Baker Boy Scouts Council won’t be getting general funds money from the organization after June of 2002.

"We are hearing the kind of mix that you’d expect," said United Way communications spokesman Mark Todd, of the phone calls coming in to his office. Many of the callers are extremely upset while others call to support the decision.

We’ve heard a mix, too. Reverse discrimination, some of our letter writers passionately argued! Others praised United Way for sticking it to the Boy Scouts. That’ll teach ‘em a lesson, they said.

Both sides’ criticisms are potentially flawed, though. Both sides erred in equating the decision with actual results.

Maybe it’s as simple as this: United Way board members engaged in a passionate, well-rounded discussion on the matter and ultimately chose to revise the organization’s discrimination policy. After all, if the Boy Scouts can make a decision for their organization and get the backing of the Supreme Court, can’t United Way make a choice for its own organization? At least the Boy Scouts aren’t being stopped from collecting donations through United Way to help support their annual budget. In fact, as we mentioned in a previous editorial, the decision may actually result in a financial boost to the local council. If Boy Scouts supporters follow the example of Planned Parenthood supporters, they’ll give more generously to the club. In doing so, they’ll be making a powerful statement. And they can do it through United Way if they wish. Many of the angry callers don’t realize this, Todd said.

United Way’s decision is understandably disappointing to many people. To others, it feels like a moral victory. Everyone needs to remember that United Way is not the moral authority in this, or any, community. Its decision does not invalidate the Boy Scouts decision or validate the other side’s beliefs. The decision reflects the values of the local United Way and that’s it. The decision does not change or impede upon anyone’s right or ability to give to the Boy Scouts through the United Way.

Neither side makes tangible gains in this debate, so continued arguing seems futile. And threats to boycott United Way harm others in our communities. Those who decide to punish United Way actually punish other needy people in their towns and cities. What values does such behavior reflect?

Every year many employers provide workers with an opportunity to donate a portion of the their paychecks to United Way. Think hard before you toss out your donation form. Remember, you still have the same options as before. You can give to the Boy Scouts or pass them by. United Way has made a decision for its organization. Let your conscience determine the results for our community.

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