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Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

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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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Downey v. Boy Scouts of America Withdrawn

GREATER PHILADELPHIA STORY-May 2000

 Acting on the advice of her attorney, on July 11, 2000, Margaret Downey agreed to file a petition withdrawing her appeal in her action against the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Downey's attorney, Stephen P. McFate, said that the June 28, 2000, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale made it clear that BSA would prevail in any further proceedings. The ruling dealt specifically with the question, whether or not the New Jersey Supreme Court was correct in its ruling that BSA must comply with New Jersey's anti-discrimination  The U. S. Supreme Court found otherwise. In a 5-4 vote, the justices overturned the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling. BSA claimed that it is a private organization, and accepting gays would violate its constitutional rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Justices William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas upheld the BSA's "private organization" claim. The five justices went so far as to create a new term when the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, labeled BSA an "expressive association."

 What exactly are members of the BSA expressing' They are expressing the judgment that homosexuals are incapable of living up to the Scout code of being "morally straight" and "clean." BSA attorneys and officials call gay men "unfit role models." According to McFate, had the U. S. Supreme Court case been about Atheism, the same convoluted reasoning would also have applied. McFate said that the legal invalidity of an Atheist's claim of discrimination would have seemed even more clear-cut to the court as regards the BSA's 'expressive purpose' argument: the scout oath specifically mentions a belief in "God."

 The Scout code (as cited in the Dale case) has an unclear meaning because, at the time it was written, the word "straight" had no social connotation in reference to sexual preferences. BSA literature contains no explicit language indicating an anti-homosexual stance, nor does it state that an Atheist should be expelled. The only language, apart from the "morally straight" and "clean" references in the Scout code, that clarifies BSA's expressed purpose can be found in various official statements issued by the national BSA office within the last twenty-two years. In March 1978, the BSA's national office expressed support for a Minnesota BSA Council's decision to exclude two gay boys. The memo ' to all Scout executives'dictated that if a member were alleged to be homosexual, he should be investigated in a "discreet and  A 1991 "reaffirmation" statement stating that "no boy can ever be the best kind of citizen without a belief in God" was distributed by the national office to all BSA councils. A Scout executive sent that statement to Downey when she and her son reapplied for membership in BSA in 1991, after moving to Pennsylvania from Bloomington, Illinois. These statements were submitted to the court as evidence that the group has an expressed purpose that can be harmed if a homosexual or Atheist person is allowed to participate. BSA argued that its freedom of speech/expression is more important than holding itself out as a civil organization serving the public at large, and that freedom of association is more important than compliance with state anti-discrimination laws.

 Past U. S. Supreme Court rulings reflect that a private group's right to freedom of association overrides a compelling state's interest in preventing discrimination. In 1995, the court held that the organizer of a private St. Patrick's Day parade could exclude gays. The exclusion was based on the parade organizer's desire not to be forced into expressing a message contrary to that of the parade. It was argued that the message, had gays been involved, would translate into "gay pride" rather than the simple celebration of St. Patrick's Day.
 In its 1976 Runyon v. McCrary decision, the U. S. Supreme Court held that private schools have a First Amendment right to teach racial segregation, no matter how noxious that idea may be. However, the Court also ruled that the school could not engage in actual segregation. The nod was given to preach segregation but not to practice it. The same case allowed the private school to exclude members if it disagreed with their ideology or political views.
 In Roberts v. United States Jaycees, the court held that accepting women and minorities would not significantly burden the Jaycees ' thus allowing for a more open membership policy. The Dale case was not comparable, according to the majority opinion, because Dale's presence as an assistant scoutmaster would significantly burden the expression of the BSA's viewpoints (however noxious those viewpoints are).

 Writing for the majority in Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale, Chief Justice Rehnquist said "The First Amendment protects expression, be it of the popular variety or not.' He went on to say, "And the fact that an idea may be embraced and advocated by increasing numbers of people is all the more reason to protect the First Amendment rights of those who wish to voice a different view.'

 The public must now decide if the noxious viewpoint of the BSA will be tolerated, condoned, and supported. With 6.2 million members, the BSA voice is a loud one indeed. That voice has called out clearly regarding its rights as a private organization.

 Make no mistake. BSA will continue trying to have it both ways. BSA will bellow that it is a "private" organization when it comes to membership. But when it comes to public money and special treatment, it will whisper that it is "public." It will not willingly forego the recruitment drives, use of public buildings without charge, parent-teacher organization charters, etc. which it enjoys in public schools. It will not decline government gratuities (use of public land, giveaways of surplus government supplies such as ammunition, camping gear, etc). It will not give up its 1916 Congressional charter. It will continue accepting money from the public ' United Way unallocated funds, corporate s  Efforts are underway to deny BSA United Way (UW) funding through unallocated monies collected from the public at large. There would be no controversy if BSA were simply listed as a donor choice option; however, most UW offices also support the BSA through an allocations committee. Out of 1,400 UW offices, only seven have ceased funding BSA. Readers are encouraged to contact their local UW offices to request an official position statement regarding the funding of BSA programs. The Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia's Anti-Discrimination Support Network (ADSN) will assist with activist efforts should a group or individual be inclined to pursue the matter.

 It will also be incumbent upon concerned citizens to contact public schools in their area. The question of whether or not BSA should use public school facilities without charge should be asked. Written objections should be sent to school superintendents if BSA is given special treatment or allowed to recruit from captive school audiences. Of particular concern is whether or not BSA entangles staff or teachers in its efforts on school time.

 Just weeks after the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale was announced, Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat-California, introduced legislation to revoke BSA's eighty-four-year-old federal charter. A charter from Congress is an honorary recognition given to patriotic, charitable, and educational organizations. The BSA charter is open-ended. It does not need periodic votes to reauthorize it but a clause in the charter states that Congress has the right to repeal or amend it at any time.
 Woolsey pointed out that, notwithstanding BSA claims to be open to all boys, BSA officials defended the organization's right to exclude homosexuals all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. She commented, "We're not saying they're bad [BSA]. We're saying intolerance is bad, and I don't see any reason why the federal government should be supporting it."

 Woolsey and ten of her colleagues also sent a letter to President Bill Clinton urging him to resign as the honorary head of BSA. Clinton aides say that the president does not agree with BSA's practice of excluding what the group calls "avowed homosexuals." Clinton, however, has not indicated that he is considering abandoning the honorary BSA position, which has been granted to every president since William Howard Taft.

 Now that the U. S. Supreme Court has accepted BSA's claim that it is a private expressive organization, a persistent activist stance must be adopted. The following ADSN Press Release was issued on June 29, 2000, in response to the U. S. Supreme Court decision:
Nontheists Condemn U. S. Supreme Court Decision in
Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale

 'Members and friends of the Anti-Discrimination Support Network (ADSN) are appalled by the June 28th 5-4 U. S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to discriminate openly against whomever it chooses. BSA now joins the ranks of disgraceful private clubs that promote bigotry and prejudice. Ethical members of the BSA should be outraged to know that an organization established to teach Scoutcraft is condoning ostracism and bigotry.

 'Inasmuch as BSA has been declared 'private,' and entitled to exclude on prejudicial grounds, there will be unintended consequences. Corporations, agencies of government, and the United Way cannot fund an organization that is merely private and openly discriminatory. As a result, boys across the country will no longer be able to enjoy the extent and quality of activities they enjoyed before.

 'By getting itself declared 'private,' BSA has defeated the rationale for it to have public support, government gratuities, and a Congressional charter. No longer will it be legitimate for BSA to receive money from United Way's unallocated funds, or to go into public schools to recruit, or to be given military and other government gratuities. BSA will have to rely on private donations exclusively. This will work against the troops and the boys.

 'Prejudiced zealots have seized control of BSA and will destroy all that has been good with their fear and loathing of the gay and nontheist communities. The BSA victory is hollow. Concerned citizens will insist that BSA no longer be active in the public arena.

 'To declare a constitutional right to discriminate is shameful. The U. S. Supreme Court decision means that intolerance will continue to flourish at the hands of the world's largest youth group.

 'The BSA will lose the respect of people who hold dear the moral tenet of non-discrimination. It is a terrible loss of an opportunity to teach values such as tolerance, brotherhood, and reverence to the religious as well as the nonreligious.

 'Recently BSA ruled that Unitarian Scouts would no longer be eligible to receive religious emblems. Unitarian values do not fall in line with BSA's selective membership policy. Unitarians are too tolerant and too sympathetic toward gays, girls, and the godless. Now that the U. S. Supreme Court has sanctioned BSA's discriminatory policy, it is just a matter of time before other religions, families, and individuals are deemed unacceptable. The BSA witch-hunt has begun. The U. S. Supreme Court has given BSA the green light to decide who is good enough and why. Parents must choose if they want their children taught morals by a group that promotes prejudice, intolerance, and separatism.

 'The Scouting hierarchy will be able to perpetuate discriminatory and un-American practices as a result of its victory in this case. BSA has been granted the legal right to practice religious intolerance and now the Boy Scout organization must carry the mantle of that intolerance for all to see.

 'The fight to have BSA's true, quasi-public character recognized has been decisively lost. The battle to convince its supporters that such a narrow, 'private' club does not merit their favor now begins in earnest.'
 ADSN is combining protest efforts with Scouting For All (SFA) in objecting to the above-mentioned discrepancies.

 Eagle Scout Steven Cozzo founded SFA in 1997. Cozzo, now fifteen years of age, lives in Petaluma, California. He and his father, Scott Cozzo, are attempting to convince BSA to change its biased membership policy even though it received a favorable ruling from the U. S. Supreme Court. Even though BSA has the legal right of association, according to the justices, SFA members and supporters want BSA to change its membership policy simply because it is the moral and ethical thing to do. The ban, after all, is rooted in an old myth, which holds that gay men are more likely to prey on young  After the U. S. Supreme Court decision was announced, SFA called for a National Day of Protest. Concerned citizens are being asked to rally in front of local BSA headquarters on Monday, August 21, 2000. During the rally Eagle Scouts will return their Eagle badges to the national BSA office. This will symbolize the shame Eagle Scouts have for the exclusionary membership policy.

 ADSN will participate in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, rally. This newsletter was not ready for publication in time to announce rally details. Phone calls, e-mail messages, and faxes were sent to members who have provided ADSN with contact information.

 If you want to be notified of future events please call ADSN at (610) 793-2737 to register your contact information. Watch for a full rally report in the July/August newsletter.

 

 

 

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