- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

The House opened debate last night on a bill to punish the Boy Scouts of America for its stand against homosexuality by repealing the group's 84-year-old federal charter.
"We are not saying the Boy Scouts are bad, we are saying intolerance is bad," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat and a former Girl Scout who sponsored the measure. "I know the value of Scouting, and that's why I believe Scouting should be available to all boys, not just some boys."
The House will vote on the measure today, but it appears to have little chance of passing.
Republicans, and some Democrats, made clear they would vote against the bill in large numbers. Moreover, almost half of the members of the House have been members of the Scouts, either as children or as adult leaders.
"We should applaud the Scouts for standing strong under pressure to compromise their own principles … they have maintained a moral standard rejected by America's liberal left," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, Eagle Scout and co-chairman of the Congressional Scouting Caucus.
Scott Cozza, founder of Scouting for All, an organization that has pressed the Scouts to change its policy, said he was "disappointed" that Republicans were ignoring the larger issue of discrimination against homosexuals.
"I hope to God it does get passed, but if it doesn't, we will put it through again when [Democratic presidential nominee] Al Gore wins and Democrats take back the House and the Senate," he said.
The Scouts have been under pressure from homosexual rights groups in recent months because the organization officially bans homosexuals as both members and adult leaders. Just yesterday, the Fort Lauderdale City Council voted to deny the local Scout council $10,000 because of the policy on homosexuality.
A Baptist pastor in the Florida resort city quickly stepped in with privately raised funds and made up the loss to the Scouts council.
Mrs. Woolsey has been a vocal critic of the Scouts since the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Boy Scouts of America has a constitutional right to set its own membership policies.
When Mrs. Woolsey introduced the bill at the behest of Mr. Cozza's organization, it appeared to have little chance of ever reaching the House floor. But Republican leaders abruptly resurrected the bill this week as a way to embarrass Democrats in an unrelated dispute over the rules of the House.
Republican leaders added the measure to the calendar Monday night after learning Democrats planned to disrupt floor proceedings this week as a protest. Democrats say Republicans are not allowing enough of their bills to be debated under special rules for noncontroversial or ceremonial bills.
An internal memo from a senior aide in House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt's office, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, said Democrats "may be forced to shut down the process" unless Republicans back down and include more Democratic bills.
By including the Boy Scouts bill along with uncontroversial Democratic measures, leadership aides say, they trumped the Democratic strategy and at the same time put them on the defensive.
"It's their worst nightmare," said one Republican leadership staffer. "This is the old adage: Be careful what you wish for because you might actually get it. And this is the perfect kind of awful liberal bill that has America horrified."
Democrats and homosexual rights groups complained that Republicans were using the bill merely for political advantage.
"It's interesting Republicans have time to play political games with this bill, but have not found time to pass the hate-crimes bill," which adds homosexuals to the list of protected classes under current federal law, said Sue Harvey, spokeswoman for Mr. Gephardt. The Missouri Democrat is an Eagle Scout.
The Democratic proposal to expand the hate-crimes law has been stalled for two years.
A spokesman for Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush criticized the Democratic bill.
Mr. Bush "has always been a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts in their efforts to promote personal responsibility, discipline and character education," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Neither the Gore campaign nor the White House returned calls for comment. Both President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have expressed sympathy for homosexual rights activists, and the president even signed an executive order banning discrimination against homosexuals in federal programs.
Mr. Clinton's executive order led to an Interior Department investigation into whether the federal government should cut off relationships with the Scouts. Word of the investigation, first published in The Times, set off a public outcry that led Attorney General Janet Reno to pre-emptively rule that the president's executive order did not require any federal agency to cut off ties with the Scouts.
A federal charter allows the Boy Scouts of America to operate as an independent corporation. It sets up the organization's board of directors and allows it to own property and hold trademarks on its symbols.
Revoking the charter would be an embarrassment to the Scouts, but would not destroy the organization. The organization could seek a state charter, which would allow it to continue to exist.
"We'd have to find a new home," Scouts spokesman Gregg Shields said.
But losing the charter, which was granted by Congress in 1916, would be a public-relations blow. There are 103 "patriotic organizations" granted a charter under U.S. law, including the American Red Cross, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, the Civil Air Patrol, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and a host of veterans organizations.
Although Congress reserves the right to revoke any charter at any time, only four have been removed from the list. Those organizations, including the Civil War Centennial Commission, were removed only after their missions were complete.
Revoking the charter would not remove President Clinton as honorary president of the Scouts. The Boy Scouts bestow that honor on the U.S. president as a matter of tradition rather than as part of the official charter, Mr. Shields said.
Dave Boyer contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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