Settlement: Pentagon says military can't sponsor Boy Scouts

WASHINGTON (BP)--The Department of Defense has agreed in a partial settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union to inform its military bases worldwide they should not officially sponsor Boy Scout units.

The settlement, in a lawsuit in Chicago, is limited in scope and is only a clarification of previous policy, according to the Pentagon. Critics of the action, however, said the department should not have backed down to the ACLU’s charge of religious discrimination against the Boy Scouts.

“The Pentagon ought to show some backbone,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund. “The ACLU is an oppressor, not a protector, of religious liberty. If you’ve got a problem with the Boy Scouts on military bases because the Scouts rely upon God, then you’ve got a problem with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both of which rely upon God.”

American Legion National Commander Thomas Cadmus urged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to “[s]tand up to the ACLU.”

“Is there no one in Washington, D.C., at the highest levels of government that will stand up for scouts, for scouting and support this movement that has long been an institution of highest reputation in America?” Cadmus asked in a letter on behalf of 2.7 million American Legion members. “Where’s the president? Where’s his cabinet? Where’s the Congress? What are the courts doing? Where is the outrage?”

The Pentagon denied it officially sponsors Boy Scout units, adding that its policy does not provide sponsorship to any private organization.

“Under the very limited settlement applying existing DOD policy, DOD may not officially sponsor Boy Scout units and DOD personnel may not sponsor Boy Scout units in an official capacity,” the Pentagon said in a written statement. “The settlement does not prohibit the Department of Defense from supporting the Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scout units are permitted to meet on military bases, and military personnel are allowed to remain active in Boy Scout programs.”

The ACLU charged that DOD units have held charters for hundreds of Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs. DOD did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement.

In recent months, the Boy Scouts of America has sought to make sure it is in compliance with the DOD policy, BSA spokesman Bob Bork told Baptist Press. The organization also has worked to verify that sponsorships are held by such groups as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and churches, Bork said.

The settlement will have “no practical effect on the day-to-day” operation of the BSA, he said.

“It’s really not much more than sort of a paper shuffling for us and has no real effect on the scouting experience," Bork said.

Scouting units will still be able to meet on military property, and military personnel will be able to participate in a civilian capacity, Bork said.

The ACLU of Illinois brought suit against both the Department of Defense and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, contending they had violated the First Amendment’s clause against government establishment of religion. The ACLU has argued government sponsorship of and support for the Boy Scouts amounts to religious discrimination, since the Scout Oath includes a pledge to “do my duty to God and my country.”

“DOD is still going to support the Boy Scouts of America, absolutely,” said Lt. Col. Joe Richard, a Pentagon spokesman.

The question of whether DOD and HUD may continue to provide funds for the Boy Scouts was not settled. For instance, each year the military helps fund the National Scout Jamboree, which has been held every four years since 1981 at Fort A.P. Hill, a U.S. Army base in Caroline County, Va., Bork said. More than 35,000 scouts and leaders, plus 8,000 staff, will meet in July on 3,000 acres of the 76,000-acre base, he said. The BSA has spent $12 to $15 million on upgrades and infrastructure at the facility, Bork said. The 2005 National Scout Jamboree will not be impacted, he said.


Download Story