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Senator Frist, the DOD, and the BSA

Mathew Goldstein

Senator Frist and the DOD misrepresent the government's relationship with the Boy Scouts of America

United States Senator Bill Frist is considered to be a leading contender for Republican presidential candidate. The Department of Defense (DOD) expects us to surrender our young men and women, and not so young men and women, in times of war. So we citizens are entitled to demand honesty and integrity from them. But they have been misrepresenting the government's close ties to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and no one appears to be holding them to account for their misstatements, least of all the opposition Democratic Party.

In an opinion article printed July 21 in The Chattanoogan entitled "Frist: Standing Up For The Boy Scouts," Senator Frist mistakenly claims that an appeals court declared the Boy Scouts Jamboree to be unconstitutional because BSA requires its members to "privately exercise their religious faith as directed by their families and religious advisors." In fact, U.S. District Court Judge Blanche Manning barred the Pentagon from spending millions of dollars to support future Boy Scout Jamborees (the only youth organization event so funded by the Pentagon) because the exclusion of nontheists ("atheists" and some "agnostics") from government-funded events violates the Constitution's requirement of governmental neutrality towards religious activity. The private exercise quote appeared in the court's decision as one of many considerations determining whether or not BSA is "pervasively sectarian." The judged determined that BSA is not pervasively sectarian but is religious for purposes of Establishment Clause analysis. Senator Frist avoids directly acknowledging that nontheists are excluded (see http://www.aclu.org/Files/getFile.cfm?id=18642).

Senator Frist then misleadingly claims that his legislation (Senate amendment 1342 to Senate bill 1042 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006) "removes ANY DOUBT that federal agencies may welcome Scouts to hold meetings and go camping on federal property." Yet the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) lawsuits have never sought to exclude the Boy Scouts from utilizing military bases on the same basis as any other community group. On the contrary, the court settlement and the ACLU press release explicitly mention that the Boy Scouts will have the same access as any other group. Also, Frist's bill does not limit itself to utilization of military bases. The text of the bill allows government "sponsorship" of the Boy Scouts and prohibits Federal agencies from providing less support than they have during the previous four years (see http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SP1342:). In other words, the bill directly clashes the judges ruling that the government funding of the BSA Jamboree and government chartering of BSA units must cease because such government support is unconstitutional.

And it gets worse. The Democrats all voted for Senator Frist's effort to interfere with the federal court's decision. These are the same Democrats who complain that the Republicans are threatening the independence of the courts by trying to pass laws that directly challenge federal court decisions or that tell the courts that they can't rule on school prayer and the like. The Democrats complaints are correct and, unfortunately, hypocritical. By voting for a law to continue the government funding and sponsorship of the Boy Scouts that the federal court just declared unconstitutional the Democrats are doing exactly the same thing they have been justifiably criticizing the Republicans for doing. So why should the Republicans--or anyone else--take seriously the Democrats complaints about Republican attacks against judicial independence?

It gets even worse. The Department of Defense keeps denying (to this day) that it sponsors any BSA units. A Department of Justice press release (Tuesday, November 16, 2004 "Department of Defense Settles Part of Litigation Challenging Its Involvement with the Boy Scouts of America") says "The DOD admitted no wrongdoing and expressly denied that it sponsors BSA organizations and, even if the Department of Defense were to sponsor BSA organizations, that any such sponsorship would violate the Establishment Clause." The BSA's own spokesperson, Craig Shields, acknowledges that the "settlement with the Pentagon affects only 422 of about 120,000 Scouting programs." In other words, at least 422 Scout units were chartered by, and thus sponsored by, various offices of the DOD in violation of its own internal regulation forbidding sponsorship of any outside organization. Also, it is of no small significance that the DOJ press release followed the District Court ruling that the DOD sponsorship of BSA units is an Establishment violation. Didn't you know that it is the DOD and the Senate who assert what is constitutional and they even appear to claim to have the authority to overrule the federal courts by such assertions?

Disgraceful. If Senator Bill Frist and the DOD are defending "values" and "character" by supporting unconstitutional government sponsorship and funding of theist-only Boy Scout programs, by misrepresenting the nature and extent of that support, and by trying to overrule a federal court's constitutional interpretation because they disagree with the court's resulting ruling--all with the backing of the Senate and the Department of Justice--then can it even be said that our country knows what values and character are?

Upholding values and character? Not around here.




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Published:
  2005-08-11

Categories:
  Not Categorized.

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