- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

A lawmaker and veterans are calling on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to reverse administration lawyers who agreed to warn military bases against officially sponsoring the Boy Scouts of America as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Critics of the settlement said that the Pentagon caved to the ACLU, which said the government improperly supported a group that requires belief in God, and that it was particularly offensive after the Nov. 2 elections, when the most pressing voter issue was the country’s values.

“The voters of this nation, if it’s a choice between expanding NAMBLA and preserving the scouting movement, the voters of America want to defend the scouting movement,” said Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican and an Eagle Scout, referring to the North American Man/Boy Love Association.

The ACLU defended NAMBLA in a wrongful-death suit brought by the parents of a 10-year-old Massachusetts boy slain by a member of the association.

In the Pentagon case, the Justice Department defends the partial settlement of a 1999 lawsuit as merely restating existing policy, which prohibits the military from sponsoring any outside groups.

But critics say the settlement encourages the ACLU to continue its drive to force the military to cut off all taxpayer support to the Scouts, which uses military bases for meetings and events. Part of the still-pending Illinois suit accuses the government of aiding the Boy Scouts through such means as preparing a Virginia military base for the Boy Scout Jamboree.

Mr. Hayworth has sent a letter to Mr. Rumsfeld, himself an Eagle Scout, calling on him to countermand his lawyers.

“Without a shot being fired, Department of Defense lawyers apparently abandoned the Boy Scouts, threw up their hands and surrendered to the ACLU’s latest radical attack on the cherished heritage and values of this nation,” Mr. Hayworth wrote.

The Boy Scouts, which requires members to believe in God and declare it in the group’s oath, aims to build values and character through a series of outdoor activities.

The ACLU lawsuit filed in Illinois argues that the federal government should not support the group’s exclusion of youths who want to become Scouts but do not believe in God. It also named as defendants the city of Chicago and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city of Chicago settled, agreeing not to engage in official sponsorship of Scout activities.

“If our Constitution’s promise of religious liberty is to be a reality, the government should not be administering religious oaths or discriminating based on religious beliefs,” said ACLU lawyer Adam Schwartz after the Monday release of the settlement’s details.

Mr. Hayworth said the Pentagon’s warning to commanders will have a “chilling effect on the scouting movement on American military bases.”

His letter calls on Mr. Rumsfeld to instruct “Pentagonites” to “encourage the voluntary support and promotion of activities such as scouting that inspire an appreciation and commitment to the bedrock God-and-country values on which America thrives.”

Rumsfeld spokesman Larry Di Rita said the secretary did not know about the settlement before it was made.

The American Legion, the country’s largest veterans group, also weighed in. National Commander Thomas P. Cadmus, whose organization sponsors Scout troops nationwide, sent a letter to Mr. Rumsfeld demanding that he “stand up to the ACLU.”

“The idea that sponsorship of scouting by American military units is ‘unconstitutional’ goes beyond the absurd, even well past the point of stupidity,” Mr. Cadmus wrote. “How is it the government can fund chapels on military bases and chaplains in the military, but not accommodate scouting?

“Why is it that the rank of Eagle Scout is an attribute high-sought in candidates for military academies, but will soon become unwelcome on military bases? How is it the Congress can sanction scouting by issuing them a federal charter, but the courts can declare them ‘outlaws.’ ”

Mr. Cadmus called on Mr. Rumsfeld to “stand up to the ACLU. Find a way to give those who serve our nation the chance to serve their children.”

Although its allies criticized the Pentagon, the Boy Scouts of America says it can live with the settlement, although it realizes that the ACLU is fighting the Scouts on other issues, such as receiving support at military bases.

“We appreciate the support, but we don’t really have a huge problem with what happened,” said Bob Bork, a spokesman for the Scouts. “It didn’t change anything. The Boy Scouts are still able to be on military facilities.”

He said the settlement enforces a “long-standing [Department of Defense] regulation that predates us” on not officially sponsoring outside groups.

Mr. Bork said the settlement affects about 400 military-sponsored Scout units, which is a small fraction of troops nationwide. He said the Boy Scouts began finding other sponsors in the summer, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“We have access to bases just like any other citizen groups,” he said.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the “very limited settlement … does not prohibit the Department of Defense from supporting the Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scout units are permitted to meet on military bases, and military personnel are allowed to remain active in Boy Scout programs. Additionally, the settlement does not reduce the level of support provided to the Boy Scouts by the Department of Defense.”

The Pentagon has filed legal briefs in defense of providing what amounts to taxpayer support when events are held on a base.

Mr. Hayworth calls the lawsuit “an ongoing effort on the part of the ACLU to drive the Boy Scouts of America into extinction.”

“The ACLU has had a maniacal obsession with the Boy Scouts for decades. I have no doubt they want to force us out of any relationship with the military or any government entity whatsoever,” Mr. Bork said.

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