Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday vowed to pass legislation this year to protect the Boy Scouts of America from attacks by liberal groups challenging federal support for the Scouts because the organization administers a religious oath.
The Tennessee Republican predicted his bill and its House counterpart will pass both chambers this year. The legislation has bipartisan support.
The bill says no federal law, directive, rule, instruction or order should limit any federal agency from providing support to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, including meetings held on federal property.
The legislation is a direct response to an ongoing lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that says federal support of the group, including about $2 million annually for the National Scout Jamboree, violates the Constitution’s provision mandating separation of church and state.
Last fall, the Defense Department was released as a defendant in the lawsuit after agreeing to warn military bases that department policy does not allow them to be official sponsors of Boy Scout units. Military personnel can sponsor Boy Scout groups only in their civilian capacity.
Mr. Frist ” who was a Boy Scout, as were his three sons ” said the lawsuit “has had a chilling effect” on the government’s support of the Boy Scouts.
Rep. Jo Ann Davis, Virginia Republican, is sponsoring a House counterpart, and the chamber’s leadership is determining how best to proceed.
In introducing the bill, Mr. Frist was flanked by several senators, including a few Democrats. Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said his time as a Boy Scout was “probably one of the single most important parts of my youth” and that the bill is “certainly in the best interest of our young people.”
Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said military personnel who are Scout leaders often inspire the boys to join the service.
“It’s long past time that we just put this issue to rest,” said Sen. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican, who noted the legislation will result in the dismissal of “harassing lawsuits,” such as the ACLU’s.
Fifty-three senators and 163 House members in the 108th Congress were Boy Scouts in their youth, according to a Boy Scouts of America fact sheet.
By Elaine Donnelly
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