The concept of the social contract as discussed by John Locke is significant not only to history but to today’s world as well. Throughout his Second Treatise of Government, Locke argues that man is born into a natural state of perfect freedom and equality. In this state, natural law is what presides over the people and their actions; therefore it is up to the citizens to bring justice to those who violate these rights. Locke elaborates on this natural state, claiming all men are able to “dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.” This statement suggests that unless someone violates another’s right to life, liberty, or property they are following the natural order.
While men in this society must only answer to themselves, this natural state leaves the people with little protection. The human desire for security leads to the peoples’ collective choice to establish a government body that will work to protect these natural rights through common laws. This agreement, or “social contract” is based upon the notion that the men involved will “unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living.” However, this safety does not come without sacrifice, as the people must give up their complete authority over themselves. In exchange for their perfect freedom, men join society to avoid infringement of their property and liberty. Locke describes this government as having three branches: the executive, legislative, and judiciary. Locke’s model of government embodies the democratic system that is in place in the United States today, making his essay a crucial influence on the Declaration of Independence. Locke’s treatise, written in 1690, outlines the system of government that would be set in place nearly a hundred years later by the founders.
Locke also notes that the people have the right to dissolve this government at any time should the agreement be violated, giving the people true sovereignty. The idea that the people have the right to overthrow the government if they feel as though they are being mistreated is crucial to the democratic system and the Declaration of Independence. Locke notes that in the state of nature, man is “exposed to the invasions of others; for all being kings as much as he, every man his equal,” addressing the issue that a state of complete equality and freedom inevitably leads to the violation of natural law. The government is put in place to protect these natural rights that would otherwise be violated; thus, the people can overthrow the government if they fail to protect said rights. Thomas Jefferson reiterates this notion in the Declaration as he justifies the colonies’ split from the crown by listing grievances against the King, making the idea a central element of American independence.
Upon reading Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, the influence his work had on the nation’s founders is evident. The work serves as a foundation for the ideas later expressed in the Declaration of Independence, ideas that are still held today, making Locke’s work one of the most influential pre-revolutionary works.
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is an Irving-based private organization that was founded over a hundred years ago. While the organization has been praised for its focus on training youth to be responsible and self-sufficient Americans, it has also endured scrutiny for its strict membership policies. The BSA has recently been under fire for its ban on gay troop leaders and members, a policy that in today’s world seems relatively outdated. The proposal to drop the ban would not require every troop to welcome gay members and leaders, but simply allow troop leaders to “determine how to address this issue” according to group officials. (Dallas Morning News) Furthermore, the BSA’s official policy does not inquire about the sexual orientation of its members or leaders but prohibits the participation of openly gay individuals. With Barack Obama being the first president to publicly support gay marriage, the BSA’s received more pressure than ever to reverse their policy.
In our post civil rights era world, the BSA’s exclusion of gays seems, in my opinion, obsolete. In a society where the president has voiced support for same sex marriage, it is almost inevitable that people will take action against a policy as discriminatory as this one. While people have the right to voice their opposition to the BSA’s ban on gays, the fact of the matter remains: the BSA is a private organization and therefore has the right to form its own regulations. The case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale established the BSA’s constitutional right to exclude an individual, in this case homosexuals, when “the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.” In the BSA’s case, it declares that homosexuality conflicts with the organization’s ideals. This claim is protected by freedom of association, which is outlined in the First Amendment, and allows for private organizations such as the BSA to choose who they allow to become members.
Grassroots mobilization has played a significant part in civil rights activism and this situation seems no different. The pressure being put on the BSA to change their policy is coming in large part from individuals who have been rejected by the organization, including Ryan Anderson, who was stripped of his Eagle Scout title for being openly gay. (Forbes) Another former boy scout named Eddie Kurtz has started a petition “urging California lawmakers to pass SB 323, which would end tax breaks for youth groups which discriminate against members based on their sexual orientation.” (Huffington Post) If passed, this bill would serve as a precedent and an example of the power legislators have over private organizations. By threatening to remove the BSA’s tax exemption, the California government has placed further pressure on the organization to reconsider its policy on gay members.
I think that what I have learned about the constitution in class has allowed for me to see this situation in a broader light. Without an understanding of the constitution, I think it would be easy to assert that the BSA’s policy should be illegal. Although I think the exclusion of gays is unjust, I realize that as a private organization the BSA has the right to establish its own policies based on the ideals of the group. On the other hand, a look at the big picture seems to suggest that the BSA should reconsider its policy. With more and more states passing legislation to allow same sex marriage, the nation seems to be moving away from more conservative thinking about homosexuality. Apart from the nation as a whole, two troops in Minnesota have already rejected the policy banning gay individuals according to the Dallas Morning News. While the BSA has the constitutional right to uphold whichever policies it sees fit, I think that the organization should give in to some of the pressure it is being placed under and reevaluate its stance on openly gay members and troop leaders.