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Boy Scouts Jamboree to stay at Army base

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Boy Scouts Jamboree, which draws tens of thousands of Scouts and their leaders to Virginia's Fort A.P. Hill Army base every four years, will go on as planned this summer, despite a court settlement announced Monday that requires military bases and units to withhold official support from the Boy Scouts.

"There will be no effect on the Jamboree," said Bob Bork, national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America. "We don't anticipate any problem with that."

The Pentagon and a spokesman at Fort A.P. Hill confirmed that the Jamboree, a quadrennial gathering of more than 40,000 Boy Scouts and leaders on 3,000 acres of the 76,000-acre Army base, will go forward -- but future stagings of the event likely will depend on the outcome of the ongoing legal battle between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Scouts.

The Pentagon on Monday, as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Illinois, agreed to warn military bases worldwide not to sponsor Boy Scout troops -- though the Pentagon has long held that it enforces a rule against the sponsorship of nonfederal organizations.

The lawsuit, awaiting final judgment in federal court in Chicago, seeks to force the U.S. Army to drop their financial support of the Jamboree, which amounts to about $2 million every four years, an ACLU spokesman said.

But Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Richards said Monday's partial settlement will have minimal impact on the military's relationship with the Boy Scouts.

"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," Col. Richards said.

"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," he said, referring to the Department of Defense. "We are still going to support the Boy Scouts of America."

The ACLU sued Chicago Public Schools and the department in 1999 for sponsoring Boy Scout activities. The ACLU has filed numerous lawsuits across the country in the past several years, because it objects to the Boy Scouts' requirement that its members believe in God and because the group does not allow open homosexuals to serve as scoutmasters.

At the time of this lawsuit, about 400 Boy Scout troops were officially sponsored by U.S. military bases. Since then, Mr. Bork said, all those troops have changed their charters and are now sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, as well as churches and other groups.

That is the practical effect that the ACLU was looking for, said Ed Yohnka, the group's Illinois spokesman.

"It was never our aim to somehow bar the Boy Scouts from using any facility. They should have equal access like anyone else. The only question was whether there should be any kind of special relationship," Mr. Yohnka said.

The ACLU still hopes to bar the military from spending money on preparing Fort A.P. Hill for the Jamboree, which has been held at the Caroline County base, 75 miles south of the District, six times since 1981.

The Boy Scouts "should have the same access as everyone else. Not everyone has $2 million spent to ready a facility for their annual meeting," Mr. Yohnka said.

Spokespersons at Washington-area military bases said Boy Scout troops, often composed mostly of boys from military families, meet on their bases but that the troops are run by parents.

"We have a troop at Bolling, but they are not called the Bolling Boy Scouts. Parents are involved. They meet at Bolling," said Capt. Elizabeth Ortiz, spokesman for Bolling Air Force Base in the District, adding that Bolling does not sponsor the troop.

Mr. Bork said the ACLU's actions show the watchdog group's lack of a "moral compass."

"This highlights more than anything else how rabid the ACLU is about the Scouts. They can't seem to let go of the Boy Scouts for anything. It's really unfortunate. They want to attack the Boy Scouts of America and the Pentagon for supporting the Boy Scouts, and they want to support kids running around naked in the woods."

Mr. Bork was referring to an ACLU lawsuit filed earlier this year in support of a proposed children's nudist camp in Virginia. A federal judge ruled in July that teens and children could not attend the camp without a parent or guardian.

"Their moral compass is turned around 180 degrees. I don't get it," Mr. Bork said.