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The Rise and Fall of the Boy Scouts | WSJ

- [Reporter] This is the 2019 World Scout Jamboree.

The event hosted thousands of young people

from around the world at a scout camp in West Virginia

and was sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America.

But Scouts were meeting during a time of crisis

for the organization.

Total membership for the century-old Boy Scouts of America

was on the decline and one of its largest sponsors

the Mormon Church had announced it would cut ties

with the organization.

Now a slew of lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse

from decades ago, has forced the Boy Scouts

to file for bankruptcy.

Here's how the largest youth organization in the country

filed for bankruptcy.

- So the Scouts were founded in 1910

and they were based on scouting programs

that were already underway in the UK.

They really focused on civic engagement.

They did this through a lot of outdoor programs

and educational programs, really focused on raising

young men to be upright citizens.

- [Reporter] As the organization grew,

so did the programs and opportunities

the Boy Scouts offered.

In 1967, about six million boys were enrolled in Boy Scouts.

- The Boy Scouts essentially became this pillar

of American society and they formed a lot of relationships

with business groups, with civic groups.

A number of well known American citizens joined

including Neil Armstrong, business men like Sam Walton,

founder of Walmart, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.

They really became this group that drew a lot of men

that would go on to do big things

in the world of politics and business.

- [Reporter] While girls had been accepted

into some scouting programs as early as 1969,

the Boy Scouts prohibited girls and openly gay boys

from joining the main scouting program.

- So when we get to the start of the 21st century,

we started to have a lot of these membership controversies

with the Scouts.

They wanted to be able to dictate

who would be able to come to the Scouts

and who would be able to call themselves a Scout.

- [Reporter] The group successfully defended

its prohibition on gay members

before the US Supreme Court in 2000.

But membership started to decline,

as boys began to look elsewhere

for extra-curricular activities.

- You had more sporting activities.

You also had parents that were more busy.

There was really much more competition for the Boy Scouts

trying to get folks to get involved.

- [Reporter] The Boy Scouts leadership

voted to allow gay youth to become Scouts

in 2013 and to allow gay adults

to serve as volunteers in 2015.

The group voted to allow transgender boys,

then to allow girls in 2017.

Despite opening its membership to more kids,

the Boy Scouts took a major hit at the end of 2019,

when the Mormon Church cut ties with the organization,

effectively withdrawing 400,000 boys from Scouting.

- When the LDS church announced

that they were gonna be ending their partnership

with the Boy Scouts, they didn't explicitly say

that the changes the Scouts were making was the reason why,

but there was some tension there.

There has been a bit of a backlash

from some conservative groups

and there's been some new Scouting programs

that have been started up since that has happened.

- [Reporter] But for the Boy Scouts

a disastrous problem was beginning to bubble to the surface.

Beginning in 2019, more than a dozen states

passed legislation that extended the statute of limitations

for child sexual abuse.

As a result, multiple claims were filed across the country

alleging former Scouts were sexually assaulted

by Scout masters and other volunteers,

mostly in the 1960s and '70s.

Between 2017 and 2019, the Boy Scouts of America

spent more than $150 million on settlements

related to child sexual abuse.

The potential liability from other lawsuits

forced the organization to declare bankruptcy

in February 2020.

- The sex abuse claims, a vast majority of them,

occurred more than 30 years ago.

And the Boy Scouts have said that they've put new

child safety programs in place, make sure kids are safe,

but still it's gonna be tough for them to recruit

at a time when their membership numbers are going down.

So there's still a lot of uncertainty

for the Boy Scouts on the horizon,

you have these declining membership numbers,

you have this bankruptcy that's been looming

and you've had this recent split with the LDS Church.

So it's really unclear

what the future of the Boy Scouts holds.

(relaxing music)