- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

The White House yesterday defended its probe of the Boy Scouts' use of federal facilities, while a "troubled" Texas Gov. George W. Bush urged President Clinton not to sever "the federal government's long-standing relationship" with the Scouts.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Jake Siewert confirmed the review first reported yesterday by The Washington Times is an effort to determine whether federal agencies are complying with President Clinton's recent executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The private youth group does not allow homosexuals to serve as Scout leaders a position the Supreme Court upheld last month.
"The bottom line is there's been no final determination yet on the federal government's involvement with the Boy Scouts whether it violates the order," Mr. Siewert said. "The Justice Department's developing guidelines, and they are still working on them."
Republicans angrily denounced the Clinton administration for the probe.
Mr. Bush, a former Cub Scout, expressed concern over an Interior Department memo telling officials to cooperate with the Justice Department's scout inquiry.
"I am troubled by this memo appearing to suggest that the Clinton-Gore administration might sever the federal government's long-standing relationship with the Boy Scouts of America," the Republican presidential nominee said.
"For many years, the Boy Scouts have conducted Jamborees and other events on public lands and provided thousands of volunteer hours to help maintain our national parks," Mr. Bush added. "I hope that President Clinton and Vice President [Al] Gore respect the role the Boy Scouts play in our society and will not allow them to be shut out of federal lands."
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane refrained from taking a position.
"Throughout society, we ought to look for ways to guarantee there's no discrimination," he said. "With respect to this specific action, I'd have to look and see what they're doing."
Mr. Gore is a former Boy Scout who automatically becomes honorary chairman of the Boy Scouts if elected president. His running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, is another former Scout. A Lieberman spokeswoman did not return a phone call.
Congressional Democrats who were once Scouts were similarly wary of wading into the flap.
Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat and the only openly homosexual former Scout in Congress, did not return a telephone call. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, a former Eagle Scout, declined comment.
But congressional Republicans had much to say about the probe.
"The administration's recent memorandum raises troubling questions and requires an immediate and complete explanation," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a former Scout. "The Clinton administration would do well to use its time and resources to affirm and practice, rather than assault and undermine, the values of the Boy Scouts."
As for the Interior Department memo, the Texas Republican added: "Whatever the circumstances surrounding this document, President Clinton should indicate his strong support for the Boy Scouts and move to ensure that the policies of his administration reflect that support."
Interior spokesman Jon Wright told the Associated Press that his department has no intention of cutting ties with the Scouts, but wants to clarify its relationship with the group in light of Mr. Clinton's order.
"We have a long history and tradition with the Boy Scouts, and we look forward to continuing that relationship," Mr. Wright said. "It's a win-win situation."
The department helps obtain conservation merit badges for Scouts, who reciprocate by cleaning up campgrounds and trails. The Scouts camp on lands managed by the Interior and Defense departments. For example, next year, the Scouts plan to use an army facility for their Jamboree.
But the Scouts might have to find another place to hold their Jamboree if the Clinton-Gore administration decides to sever ties because of the group's ban on homosexual Scout leaders. The constitutionality of the ban was upheld by a Supreme Court decision in June that came five days after Mr. Clinton's executive order.
"The government, in our view, cannot refuse to give or make available to the Boy Scouts anything that they make available to other organizations," said Matt Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's lesbian and gay rights project.
"Their not wanting to have gay leaders is a protected First Amendment activity," he said.
Former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry once said Mr. Clinton "gave up the Boy Scouts for politics" when he was growing up in Arkansas. He resumed his affiliation with the Scouts when he was elected president and automatically became honorary chairman of the organization.
"He has no intention of stepping down as honorary chair," Mr. Siewert said yesterday.
That displeases gay advocacy groups, which see Mr. Clinton's continued leadership role in the Scouts as tacit approval of their ban against homosexuals.
"We would not like to see a national leader of this country associated with a group that discriminates," said David Smith of Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest homosexual political organization. "The Boy Scouts should not have access to public facilities if they continue to discriminate against any group of people."
John Czwartacki, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said: "You would think that if the president had the courage of his convictions and stood behind his executive order, he would resign as honorary president of the Boy Scouts."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and co-chairman of the congressional Scouting Caucus, promised "bipartisan action" when Congress returns to Washington next week.
"I do not understand how anyone who works for the government can believe this gratuitous attack on the Boy Scouts represents what the people of the United States want their government to do," said Mr. Rohrabacher, an Eagle Scout.
"The Boy Scouts are not a hate group," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the House Republican Caucus. "This is election-year pandering by Clinton-Gore."
Meanwhile, Chase Manhattan Corp. announced yesterday it will resume funding to the Boy Scouts, which it had suspended after the Supreme Court decision.
During the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, party delegates booed a group of Eagle Scouts who appeared on stage as part of the opening ceremonies. California delegates held signs reading "We Support Gay Boy Scouts."
Last week, homosexual rights groups kicked off a national campaign against the Boy Scouts to force the private organization to rescind its policy barring homosexuals from acting as troop leaders.
The groups want to use laws enacted by state and local governments that ban discrimination against homosexuals to limit Boy Scout troops' access to public funding and use of public facilities.
Homosexual rights groups held rallies against the Boy Scouts in 36 cities and 21 states as part of the nationwide protest. A small group of activists some dressed in Boy Scout uniforms was turned away from the organization's national headquarters in Irving, Texas, after presenting a 55,000-signature petition protesting the policy.

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