A federal appellate court yesterday ruled that the Pentagon can continue its financial support of the decades-old National Boy Scout Jamboree, which the Defense Department sees as a useful recruiting and training tool.
Two Chicago-area religious leaders had sued the Pentagon in 1999, claiming the Boy Scouts of America event should not receive public support because Scouts are required to swear an oath of “duty to God.”
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to challenge the 1972 Jamboree Statute, which authorized government backing of the 70-year-old gathering at the Army’s Fort A.P. Hill near Bowling Green, Va.
The appellate court reversed a lower-court ruling and ordered the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that the statute is not the kind of “taxing and spending” legislation suitable for a taxpayer to challenge.
“Even assuming that it is correct to characterize the BSA as a ‘religious’ organization, this statute is for the purpose of assisting the military in persuading a new generation to join its ranks and in building good will. This is a secular and valid purpose,” the court wrote.
The American Civil Liberties Union represented the plaintiffs.
“We continue to believe that government funding to support private activities which exclude persons on the basis of their beliefs is unconstitutional,” ACLU attorney Adam Schwartz said.
Since 1937, Scouts from across the country have gathered at the Army base typically every four years for the jamboree — a 10-day outing where the boys participate in canoeing, fishing, scuba diving and other activities. The military assists by providing manpower, equipment, cookie dough — and cash.
The Boy Scouts received about $7 million in support from the Defense Department for the 2005 jamboree. More than 40,000 Boy Scouts attended, pumping an estimated $17 million into the economy in Virginia, where the event is held.
The Boy Scouts, who were not directly involved in the litigation, have said Scouts are not required to pray or attend church at the jamboree. The next jamboree is planned for 2010 to coincide with the organization’s 100th anniversary.
A lower court ruled in 2005 that the Pentagon’s support of an organization that requires its members to pledge a “duty to God” was unconstitutional.