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Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.

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United Way to redistribute funds

By: George Tomezsko 07/07/2004

The United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania has decided to distribute funds held in escrow for the local Boy Scouts organization to two other greater Philadelphia organizations that benefit youth.

The United Way took this action because the Cradle of Liberty Council has remained steadfast in support of the national Boy Scout policy regarding the appointment of homosexuals to leadership positions.

Nonetheless, this latest action by the United Way disappointed local Scout leaders and has left them scrambling to make up the funding shortfall. Pat Coviello, executive vice president of the Cradle of Liberty Council, said he thought the United Way was advancing a political and social agenda.

"They (the United Way) will only be satisfied with a policy statement from us that would be in violation of the leadership standards of the national BSA organization," Coviello said. "We remain committed to finding a way to serve children without being part of a political agenda."

But Mary Strasser, vice president for community impact with the United Way, said the decision was made because the current Boy Scout policy of appointing only heterosexual males to leadership positions conflicts with the United Way's longstanding policy concerning discrimination. She said that any organization that seeks funding from the United Way must not discriminate on the basis of age, race, religion, and sexual orientation.

"We weren't able to demonstrate that they (the Scouts) were able to comply with our non-discrimination policy," Strasser said. "We're not advancing a social agenda. We're just trying to be responsive to the community."

The monies in question, about $200,000, will now go to the Summer Camp Enrichment Program and the Summer Career Exploration Program. The funds had been held in escrow for more than a year. Strasser also said the welfare of children served by the United Way was an additional factor as to why the funds are being released at this time.

"We want to make sure kids benefit this summer," she said. The issue first surfaced in May of last year when the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania voted to withhold one half of a $420,000 grant it had previously made to the Cradle of Liberty Council because it disagreed with the Scout policy on homosexuals. The United Way had requested that the grant be used to support the Council's Learning for Life program.

A second grant was also frozen by the United Way for the same reason. That grant, for just under $18,000, supported a similar program operated by the Boy Scout's Chester County Council. The money withheld would have funded both programs through the end of last year. The money for both grants was taken from funds raised by the United Way's 2002 campaign.

At the time the United Way said that the monies would be held in escrow until both Boy Scout groups revised their policies to conform to United Way policy on discrimination. Officials from the Cradle of Liberty Council and the United Way had met several times since to work out an agreement acceptable to both organizations, but without success.

Strasser also said that an allocation for the Boy Scouts for this year, taken from the United Way's 2003 campaign, has been placed in escrow pending resolution of the issue. She said she is hopeful the matter can be resolved by the end of this year.

Coviello said the Learning for Life program had been instituted by the Cradle of Liberty Council in Philadelphia about 15 years ago as an outreach program based on ethics to reach children who were hard to serve via traditional Scouting programs.

More than 40,000 youths are currently enrolled in that program, the vast majority of whom live in the city, he said.

Coviello also saw irony in the situation because the Boy Scout leadership standards do not apply to the Learning for Life program, meaning that homosexuals can take part in it.

"It's a school-based program," he said. "The local school selects the people to work with the children. Sexual orientation is not an issue.

"This program is being potentially put on the chopping block as a result. Our children are getting caught in the crossfire of that battle."

The grant money that the United Way has diverted from the Council represents only a small percentage of its current $5.5 million annual budget. Nonetheless, Coviello said the loss is being felt and the Council is responding to the challenge by seeking new donors and by asking current donors to be more generous.

"We're also asking people to consider designating their United Way donations directly to us," he said. "They can do this, and we're going to publicize this fact more aggressively."

Coviello also said that the Cradle of Liberty Council and the city still have not reached agreement concerning the use of its Center City office building, located at 22nd and Winter Streets.

The issue arose late last year when the City Solicitor's office ruled that the Council should lose the free use of that property because the national Boy Scout policy of choosing only heterosexual males and non-atheists as leaders allegedly conflicts with the city's "Fair Practices" policy.

The Cradle of Liberty Council, which has 87,000 members in Philadelphia, Delaware, and Montgomery counties, maintains offices in the Center City property. The structure was built in 1929, after City Council had passed a resolution the year before allowing the Boy Scouts free use of the land in perpetuity.

However, the city has the right to take back the land, provided it gives the Boy Scouts one year's notice.

After a long legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts of America is a private organization and is entitled to establish and enforce its own criteria for membership.




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