- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

The Senate yesterday passed its version of President Bushs education reform plan after supporters of the Boy Scouts tangled with homosexual rights advocates over the organizations access to public school buildings.
Senators voted 91-8 to adopt the $416 billion elementary and secondary education reauthorization bill, which funds federal school programs for seven years and implements Mr. Bushs early reading and testing accountability proposals to increase academic achievement for the nations schoolchildren.
"The president should be happy, of course, were happy," Senate Deputy Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said as lawmakers ended eight weeks of amendments to the 700-page bill.
Mr. Reid and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and floor manager for the bill since Democrats took over control of the Senate several weeks ago, credited Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont for crafting the legislation.
It was Mr. Jeffords decision to bolt the Republican Party and become an independent that shifted control of the Senate back to the Democrats. "Senator Jeffords was really the architect for the core aspects of this legislation," Mr. Kennedy said.
Lawmakers spent most of the day arguing over an amendment offered by Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, to prohibit discrimination by federally funded school districts against the Boy Scouts because of the organizations refusal to accept openly homosexual boys and troop leaders.
"For years, the Boy Scouts of America have been enduring malicious assaults by homosexuals and some liberal politicians because the Boy Scouts have steadfastly continued to uphold their moral and decent standards for scouting and the leaders of that great organization," said Mr. Helms.
His amendment, initially adopted on a 51-49 vote, would have cut off federal funds to schools that denied equal access to Boy Scout troops and "any other youth group" that wanted to hold meetings and other activities simply because the groups "prohibit the acceptance of homosexuals" as members or leaders. The amendment also said schools should be accessible to any other group that "pledges allegiance" to God and country.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that the Boy Scouts have the right to establish their own membership guidelines, which includes no obligation to accept homosexuals as members or leaders. But Mr. Helms cited at least nine cases where community governing bodies and school boards had forbidden Boy Scouts to use public facilities after being pressured by homosexual activists.
Democrats led by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California attacked the amendment as providing an opening for neo-Nazis and other hate groups to claim their right to school facilities.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, questioned the amendments reference to Boy Scouts and "any other youth group."
"That could be a Black Panther group, that can be a skinhead group, that can be a Ku Klux Klan group," said Mr. Byrd, who once belonged to the Klan 50 years ago. "I do not want to open this up to any group that swears allegiance to God and country," such as the KKK, he said.
"I detest the Klan, but Ive been a member of it. I dont carry that badge with pride. … I hope that language will be changed," he added.
Mrs. Boxer agreed: "I mean, what if a group springs up — Im just going to use a name — a Timothy McVeigh Youth Group, and has in its charter homosexual language. Its my understanding after checking with attorneys that, in fact, they would be given special privileges because they have an anti-homosexual charter … Its a can of worms."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, suggested that Chicago schools would lose millions of federal dollars under the amendment if they refused to give equal access to a white supremacist group such as World Church of the Creator "that openly calls for murder of Jews."
Mr. Helms expressed dismay at the Democratic attacks, charging that they were based on ideological extremism. "Im a little bit sick at my stomach by all the muling and puking thats been going on," he said.
Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican, criticized Democrats for their intolerance of the Boy Scouts. "This Eagle Scout feels the need to vote for the Boy Scouts of America on the floor of the United States Senate. … It hurts me personally to see the values of that organization held up to ridicule by some on the left who are terribly intolerant, who hold up to ridicule people of faith."
Mr. Smith said he did not want Boy Scouts excluded from public schools and parks because some were offended by the Boy Scout oaths pledge "to keep myself … morally straight."
"I did not know anything about gays or lesbians or straight" as a youth, he said. "What I was taught that meant was that, as a boy and a young man, I should be sexually abstinent, and that as an adult and married man, I should be sexually faithful to my spouse. Is that wrong?"
After the vote to approve the amendment, senators accepted Mr. Byrds appeal to modify it by limiting protected youth groups to the Boy Scouts and other federally chartered "patriotic societies" listed in U.S. statutes.
Democrats led by Mrs. Boxer then pushed through their own amendment 52-47 that would ensure the Boy Scouts have "equal access" to public school facilities, but without the threat of losing federal funding.
"Thats not fair," said Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, because governing bodies in Broward County, Fla., Los Angeles, New York City, Tucson, Ariz., New Jersey, Iowa, and other communities have already prohibited Boy Scouts from using their public facilities, despite the high courts ruling that the organization can admit members only it deems acceptable.
"It places the burden back on the Boy Scouts to spend tens of thousands of dollars [in legal costs] to fight their way back in," Mr. Brownback said.
The Supreme Courts 5-4 decision upheld the scouts policy, ruling that it had the right to set its own moral code and espouse its own viewpoint excluding any "avowed homosexual," or atheists and agnostics as leaders.
At least 359 school districts with a total of 4,418 schools in 10 states have taken action against the Boy Scouts because of the organizations ban on homosexual leaders, according to the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
GLSEN says the list includes all public schools in Massachusetts, although some of the school districts in that state have only one or two schools.
Gregg Shields, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, says "dozens" of school districts throughout the country have taken anti-Scout action.
He couldnt be precise "because we dont keep our records" on a national basis.
The Senate-passed education bill authorizes $416 billion in federal aid to elementary and secondary schools over the next seven years. Senate amendments added $211 billion over the committee-passed bill, according to the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
The bill, which must still be reconciled with a similar but far less expensive version adopted by the House in May, was championed as the most sweeping reform in 35 years to enhance academic achievement in public schools.
The House and Senate bills include Mr. Bushs proposals to annually test all students in grades three through eight in reading and mathematics; require schools, school districts and states to demonstrate progress in narrowing achievement gaps; and to sanction failing schools with probationary status, parental choice for alternative education within the public school system, and ultimately loss of federal funds if they do not reach higher achievement levels.
The bills also dedicate billions of dollars over the next five years to increase reading achievement before grade three.
* Joyce Howard Price contributed to this report.


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