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ACLU vs. Boy Scouts of America

Friday, 05 August 2005 12:00 AM

Unfortunately, our federal courts often make decisions that assault our country's most cherished beliefs and values. Many of the nation's 3.2 million Boy Scouts and 1.2 million adult members must be hanging their heads low right now. A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning in Chicago indicates how much our society has declined in understanding the difference between paying homage to God and the intermingling of church and state.

Winkler v. Chicago was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on behalf of Methodist Minister Eugene Winkler, Rabbi Gary Gerson and others. Thanks to their misunderstanding of the separation of church and state, as well as that of Judge Manning, the Pentagon cannot use federal funds to support future National Boy Scout Jamborees such as that held last month.

The argument in this case is not that the Pentagon transfers money allocated for weapons systems to the Boy Scout Jamboree. It is that the Pentagon uses federal funds to support the event of an organization that develops our youth and acknowledges God. According to the plaintiffs and the ACLU, the Pentagon violates a fundamental stricture requiring the government to be "neutral" in religious activities although the Pentagon is authorized by Congress to support the Boy Scouts of America.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a non-denominational youth organization that seeks to make young men good citizens. It does require Boy Scouts to affirm a belief in God, or any God for that matter.

Methodist Minister Eugene Winkler insisted, "Government must be neutral because we are a nation of many religious views – as well as those who do not practice a religion. The expenditure of $7.3 million by the Pentagon on an organization that requires young people to affirm a belief in God – and the simultaneous exclusion of secular organizations from this benefit – undermines that principle of neutrality."

The ACLU argued that the money expended by the Pentagon is "alarming" because BSA distributes to Jamboree attendants a guidebook that lists a prayer book as "required personal camping equipment." BSA also distributes "Duty to God," a booklet suggesting daily prayers that could be said during the Jamboree.

What the ACLU so aggressively protests is indoctrination, but this is much ado about nothing. Devout Boy Scouts will use the prayer books and be sincere in the thoughts they express to God. Most will be sincere in what they say and do. Some Boy Scouts will not be so sincere, perhaps not even say the prayers at all. That is for God to judge.

Judge Manning in the earthly court – the U.S. District Court – incorrectly interpreted the Constitution. The First Amendment does not call for separation of church and state; it says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

BSA does not favor any religious denomination; the organization truly is non-denominational. This was clarified in the motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of the Department of Housing & Urban Development. In the motion, HUD sought to have the judge issue a ruling without a trial because the arguments of the plaintiffs, Reverend Winkler and Rabbi Gerson, were baseless. The motion said:

The Department of Justice has not decided whether to appeal this case. Millions of Americans who care about an organization that promotes wholesome values in our country's young boys have a vested interest. They should hope the Department would not let this egregious ruling go unchallenged.

Congress has a role to play, too. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., R-Tenn., introduced the Support Our Scouts Act (S. 642) to guarantee that Scouts shall have fair and equal access to all public facilities and forums. Senator Frist's bill would amend the Housing and Community Development Act to prohibit any state or local government from discriminating against any youth organization such as the Boy Scouts or its affiliates.

A bipartisan group of senators co-sponsored the bill, which the Senate recently approved as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill (S. 1042). Senator Frist emphasized how "proud" he was that his amendment received bipartisan support. The battle will continue within the House/Senate conference committee on the DoD authorization bill.

The ruling in this case reaffirms the need to place judges on the federal bench who are committed to interpreting the law, not actively rewriting it. The Pentagon's support of the Boy Scout Jamboree does not establish a religion and surely does not violate the First Amendment.

Many similar decisions, based upon the personal prejudices or gross misinterpretations of a judge, recently have been handed down. At risk, due to such activist-driven rulings, are beliefs and values that have united us as a country.

When the BSA finds itself in legal hot water because it wants its members to honor God, this is not the America that I knew growing up. In my youth, acknowledgement of our faith and our country's Judeo-Christian heritage was common and accepted practice. Our country has lost its moorings, and too many Americans of Christian and Jewish heritage willingly have abandoned the faith that held their forbearers in good stead.

Our nation's youth are too complacent, taking for granted what has been given them. They mistake Hollywood and sports celebrities as accomplished, not only in their performances on stage and on screen and on the playing field but also in their lifestyles. Glitz outshines living a life that truly honors God. The Boy Scouts challenge our young men to set higher goals and higher standards for themselves, including belief in God.

A federal judge has told the Boy Scouts that belief is unacceptable because the government must be "neutral." Millions of Americans do understand the importance of faith. They are not "neutral" when recognizing God and do not put a denominational stamp on faith. A Boy Scout may believe in his country, but his belief in God instills real mettle in that conviction.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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Unfortunately, our federal courts often make decisions that assault our country's most cherished beliefs and values. Many of the nation's 3.2 million Boy Scouts and 1.2 million adult members must be hanging their heads low right now. A recent ruling by U.S. District Judge...
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Friday, 05 August 2005 12:00 AM
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