Friday, February 29, 2008

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is determined not to let the Boy Scouts of America become the latest casualty of what he calls the ongoing cultural battle between traditional American values and the secular left.

In his new book, “On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For,” Mr. Perry outlines the legal challenges over the Boy Scouts’ refusal to abandon positions on gays and religion. He said the organization should not succumb to pressure to change.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have been filing lawsuits against the Boy Scouts for more than 30 years, seeking to ban the organization from public facilities based on its exclusion of atheists, agnostics and openly gay scoutmasters.

“If the ACLU and their kind are successful in blocking public facilities for use by Scouts, then we’re going to have very few places that Scouting is going to be able to conduct their meetings,” said Mr. Perry, who is an Eagle Scout. “The secular left will have won in defeating an institution that has for 100 years trained our young men to be leaders, to be patriots, to be individuals who have characteristics that the vast majority of the people in this country want their young men to express and to exhibit.”

Mr. Perry, a Republican, cited David Park, national general counsel of the Boy Scouts, as saying that the lawsuits cost more than 100 years and millions of dollars in litigation.

The governor wants Scouts to be able to use public facilities, but the ACLU is trying to apply anti-discriminatory legislation, said Arthur B. Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU’s National Capital Area chapter.

“I think most Americans agree that an organization that discriminates shouldn’t get special benefits,” Mr. Spitzer said.

The ACLU has said that two of the Boy Scout rules promote discrimination: One states that Scouts and scoutmasters must affirm a belief in God and live out their faith; the other states that the organization prohibits open or activist gay scoutmasters.

The Boy Scouts also has won lawsuits regarding its policy on female membership, Mr. Perry said. Female scoutmasters are permitted, but not female Scouts.

A Supreme Court case in 2000 ended ACLU lawsuits aimed at admitting atheists, agnostics and openly gay scoutmasters into the Boy Scouts, said Mr. Spitzer, a former Boy Scout.

In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that anti-discrimination legislation in New Jersey did not apply to the Boy Scouts because the group did not constitute “public accommodations.” The decision freed the Boy Scouts to end the tenure of an openly gay assistant scoutmaster.

The lawsuits against the Boy Scouts’ use of public facilities began before the Dale decision and the strategy has had more success than previous efforts by the ACLU and other organizations, Mr. Perry said.

One court case Mr. Perry cites in his book involves the city of Berkeley, Calif., which refused to provide free berthing space at a marina for the Sea Scouts, an affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America. Berkeley withdrew the free space in 1998, citing the Sea Scouts’ noncompliance with city anti-discrimination law. The Sea Scouts sued the city.

Mr. Perry said in his book that three regional ACLU affiliates filed “friend of the court” briefs in favor of the Berkeley city attorney, who argued that the Sea Scouts’ position on atheists and gays violated city anti-discrimination law.

The Sea Scouts “wanted a free berth, and we said, ‘Well, we’re not going to subsidize you with the taxpayers’ money because you discriminate, and you won’t even agree not to discriminate,’ ” said Zach Cowen, the acting city attorney of Berkeley since December.

Berkeley discriminated against the group of young people by excluding them from a free berth, said Harold Johnson, lead attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which helped the Sea Scouts when the case reached the California Supreme Court. The Sea Scouts lost.

Mr. Spitzer said the Boy Scout mission would not suffer if the organization allows atheists, agnostics and openly gay scoutmasters.

However, Mr. Perry sees the lawsuits regarding public facilities as a threat to the Boy Scouts’ existence.

“If we lose these lawsuits, then I think it hurts society as a whole,” he said. “For us to see the Boy Scouts be forced to accept all the changes that the ACLU wants to impose upon them would be, in my opinion, the end of Boy Scouts.”

A different Boy Scouts would be less attractive to parents because it essentially would become a “day care center with no productive teachings,” he said.

The ACLU’s lawsuits demonstrate its goal to insert its “narrow agenda” in society, Mr. Perry said.

In his book, Mr. Perry defends the Scout rule of believing in God and living out their faith. He said it is “pluralistic” and allows people of different faiths to join the Boy Scouts.

But Mr. Spitzer said the Scout oath is discriminatory because it excludes atheists.

The Boy Scouts permits scoutmasters who are not openly gay, the governor said, adding that the scouting’s purpose is for character-building rather than sexual education.

Sexual orientation would automatically be a topic of conversation if a scoutmaster is openly gay, Mr. Perry said.

An openly gay scoutmaster has the ability to speak about things other than his sexual orientation in front of his scouts, Mr. Spitzer said.

“There’s no reason why it would have to come up as a subject of discussion,” he said.

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