- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

CRAWFORD, Texas - Donna Coody disbanded her 7-year-old daughter’s Brownie troop and took her 9-year-old daughter out of another Girl Scout troop because she was upset about the organization’s endorsement of two Planned Parenthood sex-education seminars.

But Mrs. Coody didn’t want her daughters and their friends to miss out on camping trips, educational activities and service projects, so she started a troop affiliated with the Christian-based American Heritage Girls.

“I felt like the Girl Scouts’ morals were definitely lacking, and the girls needed another choice,” Mrs. Coody said.

American Heritage Girls was founded in 1995 by a Cincinnati-area woman and her friends who were unhappy that the Girl Scouts accepted lesbians as troop leaders, banned prayer at meetings and allowed girls to substitute the word “God” in the oath.

What started with 100 girls in Ohio has turned into a nonprofit group with 2,800 members in 22 states — with a 40 percent enrollment boost since the fall, founder Patti Garibay said.

Troops must be chartered by a church or private school with the same basic religious beliefs as American Heritage Girls. Leaders must sign a statement of faith, but girls don’t have to be religious to join.

The girls do activities or service projects to earn badges. Each meeting starts with girls praying, pledging allegiance to the American and organization’s flags, then reciting the oath while holding up four fingers: symbolizing God, family, community and country.

“It’s people who really want a wholesome program for their daughters,” Mrs. Garibay said.

Officials with the New York-based Girl Scouts say their numbers are up, too.

About 2.9 million girls nationwide are in Girl Scouts of the United States of America, founded in 1912 and chartered by Congress in 1950.

The organization has not been deluged with complaints or had a mass exodus, spokeswoman Ellen Christie said.

In 1993, the Girl Scouts decided to allow members to say “Allah” or another word instead of God in their oath. The Girl Scouts also allow lesbians as leaders and members.

A Girl Scout cookie boycott was waged in the Waco area last month after some parents found out that the Bluebonnet Council of Girl Scouts, which oversees troops in Crawford and 13 other counties, endorsed two Planned Parenthood sex-education programs.

Mrs. Coody and some other mothers in Crawford, about 20 miles west of Waco, joined the boycott. They also were upset that the Bluebonnet Council gave the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Central Texas a “woman of distinction” award last year.

The Bluebonnet Council responded by removing its logo from materials related to sex-education programs sponsored by Planned Parenthood. Council officials said they never gave money to the organization for anything, including the workshops.

Still, some mothers took their daughters out of Girl Scouts.

“The more I know about the Girl Scouts, the happier I am not to be in it,” said Lisa Aguilar, who pulled her daughter from a Crawford troop last month.

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