- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

RICHMOND — State Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell is backing the Defense Department’s effort to overturn a court ruling that severs financial ties between the military and the Boy Scouts of America.

The ruling bars the Boy Scouts from holding its national Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Bowling Green, Va. Every four years, the event attracts about 40,000 Scouts and volunteers from across the country.

“The ruling turns the understanding of the First Amendment on its head,” said Mr. McDonnell, a Republican and a former Boy Scout.

Last year, a federal court in Chicago sided with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), saying the Pentagon’s assistance in the Scouts’ Jamboree was unconstitutional because the group’s “duty to God” oath makes it a religious organization.

Oral arguments are scheduled to start today in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Those involved in the legal battle say it will center on a clause in the First Amendment that bars the government from enacting laws “respecting an establishment of religion,” and on a federal law that allows Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to assist “any national or world Boy Scout Jamboree.”

Ed Yohnka, an ACLU spokesman in Illinois, said the Pentagon has spent $29 million on the Boy Scouts over the last two decades — about $2 million a year and $7 million for each Jamboree.

Mr. Yohnka said that is problematic because “if you don’t swear an oath to God, you are not allowed to participate.”

“You can’t have the Pentagon spending this extra amount of money that no one has access to,” he said.

The military, among other things, has provided personnel and first-aid resources, set up power lines and tents, conducted flyovers, and helped control traffic during the 10-day Jamborees, which supporters say provides $17 million for the local economy.

In 1999, the ACLU challenged the military’s involvement.

“Our argument is that the government has to be neutral in supporting religious and secular groups,” Mr. Yohnka said. “The Jamboree statute and the extraordinary funding provided violates that principle of neutrality.”

George Davidson, an attorney representing the Boy Scouts, said that “there is no mandatory religious activity in the Boy Scouts,” and that “virtually every organized religion is represented in Boy Scouts.”

Mr. Davidson said the Jamboree has given the military an opportunity to attract new personnel, practice running a tent city, and benefit from about $1 million a year the Boy Scouts give back in the form of things such as new obstacle courses on the Army base.

“The support of the Jamboree has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with having a stronger military in this country,” he said.

“This is the latest attempt by a leftist, liberal group to go after an outstanding group in the Boy Scouts of America,” Mr. McDonnell said, referring to the fight the ACLU lost in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts could bar homosexuals from being troop leaders.

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