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Military's aid to Boy Scouts is a front in larger legal war

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Military's aid to Boy Scouts is a front in larger legal war

 

http://www.startribune.com/stories/484/5510422.html

 

Michelle Boorstein

Washington Post

Published July 17, 2005

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Boy Scouts' Jamboree, held every four years, is an epic event for Caroline County, Va.

 

Held at Fort A.P. Hill for 25 years, the event more than triples the county's population, bringing 40,000 Scouts, leaders and staff members together for 10 days of sports, conservation activities and the construction of an elaborate tent city.

 

County officials estimate that when the latest jamboree begins a week from Monday, 300,000 additional people will stream into the area, including parents, vendors and other spectators.

 

The jamboree is also an important event for the U.S. military, which has been supporting it since the 1930s with contractors, 1,500 troops and $2 million a year in Defense Department funding.

 

That relationship is coming under scrutiny, however.

 

A federal judge ruled late last month that the Pentagon funding is unconstitutional because the Boy Scouts are a religious organization, requiring Scouts to affirm a belief in God. The case was initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union.

 

The Scouts and their advocates -- including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis, R-Va., whose district includes Fort A.P. Hill -- are livid, saying the jamboree provides a unique training opportunity for troops. Among those speaking out last week was Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, who said the ruling in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois amounts to "discrimination against religious entities."

 

Even as the government plans its appeal and Davis pushes legislation to try to ensure that Pentagon funding for the jamboree continues, experts say the ruling by U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning is part of an escalating battle over government funding of religious organizations.

 

Stanley Carlson-Thies, a former adviser to the Bush White House on faith-based issues and now an adviser to groups through the Center for Public Justice, said people are closely watching such decisions. He said that Manning's ruling should be overturned and that society needs to focus more on what faith-based groups do rather than what they believe.

 

"We ought to say different groups have different standards. We may not like each of them, but they make up the mosaic of American society. If we force them to have the same standards, then we lose that diversity," he said.

 

The Boy Scouts declined to comment on whether the group would be able to continue the $26 million event without government support. According to the ACLU, the Pentagon spends $15,000 on pediatric medical supplies, $10,000 for mementos and $5,000 on cookie dough for the event.

 

Since 1937

 

All sides agree that the relationship between the Scouts and the U.S. military is a long-standing and unusual one. The military has been supporting the jamboree since 1937, and Congress eventually made financial support of the event part of federal law. Davis and Frist said they believe a new congressional measure could be stronger and unchallengeable.

 

During the jamborees, thousands of U.S. troops set up and take down 17,000 tents and provide security, communications support and medical services, among other things.

 

But the relationship was called into question in 1999, when a group of Chicago taxpayers -- including a Methodist minister and a rabbi -- sued several government agencies for their financial support of the Boy Scouts. The ACLU represented the group.

 

Named in the suit, along with the Pentagon, were the Chicago school board and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, because some schools and housing projects were sponsors of Scout troops. A settlement was reached on government sponsorship and the practice was stopped, but the part of the suit that concerns jamboree funding remains in the courts.

 

At the heart of the case, Carlson-Thies said, is an issue that is increasingly being brought before courts as the government increases its partnerships with civic and service organizations: How exactly does the First Amendment apply to the funding of faith-based groups?

 

The ACLU and its supporters say groups that discriminate on the basis of religion can receive government funding -- as many social service groups do -- but that they typically are competing with other groups for neutral grants that have specific requirements, such as providing services for the homeless.

 

"To the extent that camping is a worthwhile activity, there's no reason why this has to be limited to the Boy Scouts," said Adam Schwartz, lead attorney for the ACLU of Illinois. "If the money is good for local merchants, why not give other groups a crack at it?"

 

'Symbiotic'

 

But supporters of the Scouts-Defense Department relationship say no other group would be able to provide a training event for the military like the jamboree.

 

"This is a symbiotic relationship," said Robert Bork, a communications consultant who represents the Boy Scouts on legal issues.

 

And besides, Bork said, other youth groups -- including Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the YMCA -- receive millions of dollars from the federal government. Public money is also sometimes "earmarked" for a specific recipient by having requirements written with a particular group in mind, a practice that constitutional law expert Robert Tuttle calls "the dark recesses under your fridge in constitutional law" because it skirts the rule of neutrality.

 

"Until the last 10 years, all the energy in this field was focused on parochial schools; no one paid attention to faith-based initiatives," said Tuttle, who teaches at George Washington University Law School. "Now that's changing. People are starting to understand there are all these nooks and crannies in funding and really looking at them."

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I guess I feel like as long as the government is neutral in it's funding of these kinds of activities, ie, if they would fund anyone who came along asking for similar support, then I suppose it's ok. That's probably not realistic, of course; not all organizations are "created equal". Rather than trying to take away funding from Scouts, maybe they should instead be looking to speading the funding around to other groups as well, as long as there was a way to guarantee, as much as possible, that faith-based groups didn't use the funding to push forward a strictly religious agenda.

 

I don't agree that funding Scouts is somehow funding the establishment of religion, but BSA could get around this problem quite easily by stopping the effort to define itself as a religious group. I don't think that that's what B-P had in mind.

 

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What was Baden-Powell's position on God and Religion in scouting?

 

"No man is much good unless he believes in God and obeys His laws. So every Scout should have a religion ... Religion seems a very simple thing: First: Love and serve God. Second: Love and serve your neighbour." (Scouting for Boys)

 

"When asked where religion came into Scouting and Guiding, Baden-Powell replied, It does not come in at all. It is already there. It is a fundamental factor underlying Scouting and Guiding." (Religion and the Boy Scout and Girl Guides Movement -- an address, 1926).

 

"The atheists ... maintain that a religion that has to be learnt from books written by men cannot be a true one. But they don't seem to see that besides printed books ... God has given us as one step the great Book of Nature to read; and they cannot say that there is untruth there - the facts stand before them ... I do not suggest Nature Study as a form of worship or as a substitute for religion, but I advocate the understanding of Nature as a step, in certain cases, towards gaining religion" (Rovering to Success, Robert Baden-Powell, 1930, p. 181).

 

"Where a man cannot conscientiously take the line required, his one manly course is to put it straight to his Commissioner or to Headquarters, and if we cannot meet his views, then to leave the work. He goes into it in the first place with his eyes open, and it is scarcely fair if afterwards, because he finds the details do not suit him, he complains that it is the fault of the Executive" (Baden-Powell, Aids to Scoutmastership)

 

http://clipart.usscouts.org/ScoutDoc/FAQs/f02_rsi.txt

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I'm not knowledgeable enough about the man's writings to trade quotes with you, so I won't even try to do that.

 

In any event, my point wasn't about a basic belief in a god/God. As others have commented, there are ways that Scout policy could be interpreted to allow "as big a tent" as possible. My point was more about BSA's seeming efforts to define itself as a religious organization with policies reflecting the beliefs of some particular religious groups. That's what I think B-P would have had an issue with.

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Didn't B-P write the "Outlander's promise" as an alternative promise for Scouts, removing the King/Queen and god references, as an alternative promise for Scouts who couldn't or wouldn't take the original promise?

 

Scout Promise (UK version)

 

On my honour, I promise that I will do my best,

To do my duty to God and to the Queen (or King),

To help other people,

And to keep the Scout Law.

 

The Outlander Promise

 

On my honour, I promise that I will do my best,

To render service to my country;

To help other people,

And to keep the Scout Law.

 

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According to Wikipedia:

 

"Baden-Powell wrote this alternative oath called the Outlander Promise for Scouts who could not, for reasons of conscience, recognize a duty to a King, for individuals or members of religions that do not worship a deity, and for members of orthodox religions that do not use the name of God in secular settings."

 

It seems it intended to cover religions that didn't worship a diety (such as Budhism) or those that don't use the word god in certain settings. I don't see any mention of atheists so it doesn't appear to be inconsistent with BP's belief in the importance of religion.

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But the BSA doesn't kick out kids who don't belong to a religion, they kick out kids who don't believe in at least one god, so the BSA's policies don't seem to agree with B-P's tradition. The BSA doesn't care if a kid is a Buddhist - if he doesn't believe in at least one god also, he's kicked out.

 

And if B-P intended to keep out kids who didn't belong to a religion (which I don't think you can show), that would also differ from current BSA policy.

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"In your opinion, what exactly is BSA doing that B-P would not have "had in mind"? "

 

I don't mean to answer for anyone, but while not necessarily the BSA, some members of the BSA, including some in this forum, have referred to the BSA as a "Christian" organization. The BSA's own declaration of Religious Principles makes it clear the BSA is not a Christian organization and is open to all that have faith in a higher power, however they percieve it. It is the notion that the BSA and it's values are based on one particular faith that I think BP would have an issue with.

 

SA

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In 1917 Britian (and indeed, in many other times and places), one could make statements that make religion a key part of the fundemental 'way things are'. The question really is does it still achieve anything for us to say that today?

 

What does the BSA GAIN by barring people of specific beliefs? (Most notably atheism, but I have also seen pagans and other faiths claim that they are also shunned by the BSA.)

 

We include Universal/Unitarians. We welcome people who have never opened a religious book or stepped in a place of worship, or said a real prayer in their life- but as long as they check off SOMETHING as a religion, we are OK with it.

 

A Scout who has been a good leader and mentor can be kicked out for simply sharing that he thinks that there is not a god? He does not need to behave immorally or against the other 11 Laws- but he is out as far as some segments of Scouting are concerned?

 

IF religion REALLY WERE a key factor in life and success, would we not WELCOME atheists with open arms to SHOW them what they are missing by the examples of our own lives??

 

Sorry- soapboxing again!

 

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With all due respect, that may be, but the assertion was made that whatever BSA is doing today with respect to religion, it isn't consistent with the Founder's beliefs.

 

The claim was made, but so far, without support. I've posted quotes that show clearly how the Founder felt about Scouting and faith.

 

I'm still waiting for those who feel otherwise to make their case.

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fgoodwin writes:

The claim was made, but so far, without support

 

Wrong, I provided support. You just didn't agree with it. That's not a trivial distinction.

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Interesting reading Fgoodwin. I'm sure BP based scouting on much of his own personal values which included Christianity. I just don't believe scouting's values are unique to Christianity and that BP was very open to the idea of sharing scouting's values with many different people. Maybe you disagree. Here's what one of our local district folks had to say about scouting and his faith.

 

"''We are going to become part of Americana," said Abdul R. Samma, a member of the Islamic Center who works as senior district director of the Boy Scouts' Annawon Council. He envisions Sharon's Islamic scouts marching in Memorial Day and Independence Day parades.

 

Samma said the scouting and Islamic traditions go nicely together. ''What scouting is all about is what Islam is all about," he said, noting that they share values such as loyalty and trustworthiness."

 

I also know of Jewish Synagogs that sponsor scout troops as part of their youth programs.

 

Do they have it wrong? Does the BSA has it wrong then? Do those that beleive Scouting is a Christian organization feel that these organizations do not share scoutings values because they are not Christian? Should the BSA change it's Declaration of Religious Principles to become even more exclusive? It's certainly within our rights to associate with only those with whom we share religious beliefs. Are scoutings values and moral training uniquely shared by Christianity?

 

SA

 

 

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Again, the claim was made that BSA's policy toward faith is not compatible with what the Founder believed. I believe I've shown otherwise.

 

Whether BSA's current policies should be changed is altogether a different matter.

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