- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

A decision to disassociate Robert E. Lee’s name from Boy Scouts in the Richmond area has critics saying Scout leaders are shunning a man who was the embodiment of American values.

“They could not find a better representative for Boy Scouts than General Lee,” said Brag Bowling, commander of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a former Boy Scout. He called the Confederate leader an “American hero” who is greatly respected and viewed as an honorable man by people of all races around the world.

King Salim Khalfani, Virginia director of the NAACP, hailed the decision made last week by the Robert E. Lee Council executive committee, which oversees 24 counties and four cities throughout central Virginia.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported yesterday that committee members made the change to fulfill the Boy Scouts mission of being all inclusive.

Mr. Khalfani said the council welcomed the change and felt no pressure to become more politically correct.

“It’s not a slap at Robert E. Lee,” he said. “But we don’t want to deter any individual from joining the organization.”

Mr. Khalfani also said the change would now encourage people to join.

Following the executive board’s “overwhelming” vote for change, the council will get a new name in June 2004 and remove from Scout uniforms a logo bearing Lee’s name.

The Boy Scouts of America is split into councils that direct troops and often use icons from regional history as part of their titles.

Executive board member Robert Tuggle told the Times-Dispatch the council still regards Lee as an “outstanding man, leader and influential person,” and is open to suggestions from the public on what the council’s new name should be.

Mr. Tuggle also said the council dropped the name, used since 1942, to try to represent the entire population, not because of political pressure or because of Lee’s character.

Mr. Bowling disagreed, saying the council made the decision to be politically correct, not for financial reason or to attract more members.

He still supports the Boy Scouts, but said the leadership was “weak and caving in.”

“Here’s a group that has been PC’d to death, and now they’re turning around and doing the same thing,” he said, referring to the legal battle in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the organization could bar homosexuals from being troop leaders. The group also has been accused of discriminating against nonreligious boys because their parents are forced to sign a Declaration of Religious Principles.

He thinks many of the Richmond-area’s roughly 22,000 registered Scouts and 7,500 leaders support using Lee’s name, but said the Sons of the Confederate Veterans will not push the council to change its mind.

This is not the first time a debate about Lee has divided the Richmond area. In 1999, Richmond City Council member Sa’ad El-Amin objected to the city’s plan to put a mural of Lee on a floodwall along the Haxall and Kanawha canals. Council members eventually decided to use the portrait to depict a part of Richmond’s history.

At the time, Mr. El-Amin compared Lee to Adolf Hitler and said he did not deserve honors because he supported slavery.

Mr. Khalfani said Lee’s name should have been removed from the council years ago, and he would not be surprised if parents pulled their children from the Scouts because of the decision.

“It’s a funny thing here in Virginia, because the Confederate side is still fighting the Civil War,” he said.

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