When I first read this article by Charles Prebish on Precepts practice in Western Buddhism, I thought he was arguing that we must somehow re-invent the Precepts to make them relevant in the West. It turns out that wasn't exactly what he meant to say.
In a comment elsewhere, he said "we need new commentaries which explain how the existing precepts can be applied to modern circumstances in the West. With changing times, and new issues in ethics (such as bio-ethical issues not considered in ancient times) coming to the forefront, we simply need to consider how we can manifest the existing precepts in a new context."
This is needed, he said, because "I have been visiting North American Buddhist centers for more than forty years, and alas, in many of them, all I hear is talk about meditation, and of course its practice. Sometimes precepts are never even mentioned." I'm sure Professor Prebish is right about that.
However, I think the context he is talking about already exists. I'm mostly familiar with western Zen literature, but I recommend three books -- The Mind of Clover by Robert Aitken Roshi; The Heart of Being by John Daido Loori Roshi; and Being Upright by Reb Andersen Roshi. All very good.
There are also some good dharma talks on the Web, such as this talk on the Precepts and the Environment by Daido Roshi. My point is that teachers already have given us plenty of context for practicing the Precepts in a way that takes in 21st century issues. And I'm sure that's true in other traditions as well; I'm bringing up Zen because that's what I know best.
The real problem is that Buddhist centers in the West often do a hit-and-miss job of teaching. I can think of several reasons for this.
First, dharma centers are too few and far between for many of us, so we don't get to attend teachings regularly. That's probably the biggest problem.
Second, meditation probably is the primary "draw" for many centers, or the most common reason people first walk in the door. It takes a skilled teacher to awaken interest in other aspects of practice. However ...
I suspect some people have been shoved into (or promoted themselves into) teaching positions before they were ready.
It's not just Precepts; A focus on meditation and mindfulness alone leaves out, well, dharma. Meditation/mindfulness outside of the context of the rest of the Buddha's teaching isn't really Buddhism at all.
It's a particular shame about the Precepts, though, because I think the Buddhist approach to morality would be a great gift to the West, if it's ever taught properly.