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« UTI: Back in the Saddle Again The RantsThoughts on the Ten Commandments Cases »

One More Time: The Government Cannot Fund the Scouts
2005.07.14 (Thu) 20:36

As only a few news sources have reported recently, a federal judge ruled that the Pentagon can no longer fund the Boy Scout Jamboree, which they've been funding for many years. The cost of the jamboree, which is held every four years, is around $7M-$8M. This ruling follows a separate settlement by the Department of Defense last year, which held that military bases could no longer sponsor scout troops. The more recent AP tagline reads:

A federal judge has ruled the Pentagon can no longer spend millions in government money to ready a Virginia military base for a national Boy Scout event typically held every four years, the American Civil Liberties Union announced Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning's June 22 order stems from a 1999 lawsuit by the ACLU of Illinois that claimed the Defense Department (search) sponsorship violates the First Amendment because the Scouts require members to swear an oath of duty to God.

Every time we hear yet another person cry out about how the poor Boy Scouts are being persecuted by the nasty ACLU, we just want to beat that person about the head and neck. As far as we're concerned, this issue is about as clear as an issue can get. We wrote about this months ago and laid out the issues in excruciating detail. The bottom line then was the same as it is now:

The BSA requires all members — be they children or adults — to swear an oath to God and to adhere to religious principles. Clearly, this is a faith-based group. As a result, the ACLU tells the DoD to stop spending tax payer money on this group since we have that whole separation of church and state thing going on in the United States. The DoD says they will comply since they have a rule already in place barring federal sponsorship of any non-federal organizations. So, even if you don't think that the BSA is a faith-based group, it certainly must be agreed that it is a non-federal group, and hence cannot be sponsored by the DoD. The BSA is stating that relatively few troops are directly sponsored by military bases, and that fixing this will not be a major issue. I mean, if the biggest problem is paperwork, then suck it up. Finally, military personnel are free to continue to be troop leaders on their own time, and no one is trying to say that the BSA troops can't meet on military bases, so long as other groups are free to do the same, and so long as taxpayer money isn't spent to support those groups specifically.

Pretty simple, isn't it? We think so.

"But it's only one little oath to do their duty to God and country," we've heard some people say. Wrong. Check out the BSA web site, as we did. We searched for the word "god" and, on 11/24/2004, we got 106 hits. Here are three of them:

"The anchor reminds us that a truly worthy life must be anchored in duty to God." ...

"The religious emblems program offers pathways for Scouts to more deeply understand their duty to God."

"Religious Principle, Declaration of, (BSA) The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no person can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God and, therefore, acknowledges the religious element in development of youth members, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious development. Its policy is that the organization or institution with which youth members are connected shall give definite attention to their religious life. Only adults willing to subscribe to this declaration of principle and the Bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America shall be entitled to certificates of leadership."

That sounds pretty damned religious to us, and that's just three out of 106 references to "god" on the web site.

As we've said before, we don't have anything against the actual Scouts who make up the individual groups. One of our members was a Scout many years ago, and there was nothing religious about it. The problem is that the BSA — the actual organization that governs all Scouts — is a religious organization. They require their members to believe in God. The company line insists that this isn't the Abrahamic God — but then there's that nagging tendency to discriminate against homosexuals in an oh-so-Christian-Right way. And whether they are primarily Christian or if they just require "some religious belief," the fact is that they openly discriminate against those who are not religious.

Do the Scouts perform useful functions in society as many of those demonizing the ACLU in this case are fond of repeating? Absolutely, and we're reasonably sure that the ACLU would agree with that statement. The Scouts also perform harmful functions, as we wrote about in another post, in which we discussed how some BSA members were fraudulently inflating membership numbers in order to receive more funds. Neither of these facts has any bearing on the argument to stop government funding of what is absolutely a religious organization.

So why do we see so many contrary comments, like this one from Bob Bork, the attorney for the BSA:

"It seems odd that the ACLU would defend the First Amendment rights of other organizations like Nazis and nudists ... but not the Boy Scouts," spokesman Bob Bork told the Chicago Tribune.

Wrong, Mr. Bork. Do we need to reprint the First Amendment for you?

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

That part at the beginning is precisely what the ACLU is defending. They aren't trying to limit what the Scouts can or cannot do and they aren't trying to restrict the free speech guaranteed to the Scouts. They are simply asking that the long-established separation of church and state be upheld. Would the ACLU defend the rights of Nazis to exist and to espouse their views? Sure, the same way they would defend the right of the BSA to exist and to espouse their views. But neither should be funded by the government.

Now, we understand why Mr. Bork would be bending the truth in favor of the BSA, as they are his clients; but why do so many others buy this line of crap? This isn't about a vendetta against Scouting, and it isn't about getting the Scouts to accept gay members or atheist members or anything else. As Rev. Eugene Winkler, one of the plaintiffs, says:

"This issue is not about the Boy Scouts at all. It's about government funding for religious purposes. It's about separation" of church and state.

So, after all of the facts are laid out end-to-end, is it any wonder that case after case keeps resulting in the decision that the government can't fund the Boy Scouts? Is this newest ruling that the government can't spend millions of taxpayer dollars to fund the Scout Jamboree a shock? Is anyone actually surprised? Seriously, if you don't see the logic in these court decisions, please let us know why; because the only arguments we've heard have been pretty devoid of reason and logic. Just check out the comments over on Free Republic to see what we mean.

To us, this couldn't be any more obvious.

— • —
[  Filed under: % Civil Liberties  % Government & Politics  % Religion  ]

Comments (3)

Grendel, 2005.07.15 (Fri) 10:01 [Link] »

The Christian Right will bitch about this, but with tongue in cheek. The actual loss is miniscule, but the value to their fund raising is high. This is more 'evidence' of the persecution of Christians, and they will employ it to raise money. I doubt, however, that money will be used to fund the next Boy Scout Jamboree.


jay denari, 2005.07.15 (Fri) 22:40 [Link] »

...no one is trying to say that the BSA troops can't meet on military bases, so long as other groups are free to do the same, and so long as taxpayer money isn't spent to support those groups specifically.

Hmmm.... so what if a group dedicated to, say, opposing nuclear weapons wanted to hold organizational meetings (NOT protests, just meetings) on such bases? Since the land's owned by the public they should be allowed to, but I'll bet the military wouldn't let THAT happen. I wonder if any such group has even tried...

The Two Percent Company, 2005.07.20 (Wed) 22:29 [Link] »

To clarify your statement, jay, the public doesn't "own" the land. The military owns the land, as an extension of the government, which is funded by the public's tax dollars. We don't own a military base any more than we "own" a public library or museum (or any other public institution). You don't get to do whatever you feel like at the library or museum any more than you can on the grounds of a military installation. Legally, you have to abide by the rules set up by the organization that runs the place.

That said, we're curious ourselves about the military's stance on allowing external organizations access to their installations. We know what it should be: an all-or-nothing policy, either giving everybody a fair shot or nobody, in keeping with the government's self-imposed ban on discrimination. Of course, we're only talking about access to meeting space here, not funding or providing personnel in support of an event. If we were talking about funding, then the separation of church and state would mandate that no funding should go to the BSA (since they are a religious organization), and the DoD's own regulations would mandate that no funding should go to any non-federal organization.

All that said, we are currently unaware of what the military does in practice. In fact, your conjecture has given us just the impetus we need — we're going to drop a line to the folks at a local military base, and find out just what their decision-making process is when it comes to cases like these. We'll let you know what we find out; and if anyone out there happens to already know the answer, by all means — jump in and speak up!

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