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Article published Apr 12, 2005

Local Scouting groups take steps in face of ACLU threat

Richard Burgess

The fear of lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union has prompted the Boy Scouts of America to advise all pubic institutions to stop sponsoring Scouting groups, a move that could affect at least 32 local Cub Scout packs and three Boy Scout troops that are now chartered by public schools or law enforcement agencies.

Scouts may still meet at schools and police stations, but to avoid potential litigation from the ACLU, formal sponsorship of the Scouting groups is expected to be transferred to a private organization, such as a Kiwanis Club, a church or a parent group, said Jim Rees, scout executive for the Boy Scouts of America Evangeline Area Council.

The ACLU has argued that government sponsorship of Scouting groups violates the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty because Scouts swear an oath of "duty to God."

"I think they need to find something else to do besides pick on the Boy Scouts," said Jay Leger, principal of Dodson Elementary School in New Iberia, which sponsors Cub Scout Pack 335 and Boy Scout Troop 17.

Leger, who went through the Scouting program as a kid and now helps oversee this area's Eagle Scout program, said that his school has sponsored Scouting groups for at least 30 years.

"This is just a game the ACLU is playing," Leger said.

"The Scouts will still meet at our school, but someone else has to sponsor them. We're looking around and we will probably go with our parent group."

Rees said the local Evangeline Scout council received a directive from the national Boy Scout office last month to transfer formal sponsorship from public to private groups.

He said at least 32 Scouting units in Acadiana - mostly Lafayette and New Iberia - are sponsored by public schools and three by law enforcement agencies.

Arrangements are now being made to transfer those charters to private groups, Rees said.

The move comes after the Pentagon agreed in November to cease the sponsorship of hundreds of Scouting groups by military facilities after the ACLU filed a lawsuit over the issue. This month, the ACLU of Illinois threatened litigation against other public institutions that sponsor Scouting groups.

"If they (public institutions) want to maintain the charters, that is their right," Rees said. "But we are taking the ACLU seriously, and we don't want them to experience harassment from the ACLU."

Louisiana ACLU Director Joe Cook said the state ACLU affiliate has no plans to take action on the issue here, but he did not rule out future litigation.

"We should hope they get the message and stop discriminating on the basis of religion," Cook said. "... It looks like the leaders of the Boy Scouts need to earn their merit badges in tolerance and diversity. Those
are good moral values."

Bill Melancon, a Lafayette businessman who leads Cub Scout Pack 427 at Plantation Elementary in Lafayette, worries that shifting sponsorship of his group to a private organization might keep away some potential Scouts.

He said the sponsorship of a public school offers parents a feeling of security.

Melancon, an Eagle Scout in his youth whose children are now in scouting, also cannot fathom what problems anyone could have against an organization he credits with building strong values in youth.

He recited, from memory, the Scout Law, the oft-repeated list of everything a Scout is to be - trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

"How could anyone have a problem with those values?" he said.

Cook, who said he generally supports the overall mission of the Boy Scouts, said he would prefer the Boy Scouts organization do away with its religious oath rather than transfer sponsorship to private groups.

That's unlikely to happen, Rees said.

"In Acadiana, this is a fairly conservative area, and a lot of people are truly aggravated with the ACLU," he said.

The Evangeline Area Council is made up of 244 Scouting units, including Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venture Scouts.

Most of those units are already sponsored by private groups.

Rees said he expects the other Scout charters to be transferred to private groups within the next 8 months.




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