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The nation’s largest veterans organization has delivered a stern letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over an agreement with the ACLU to ensure military bases do not sponsor Boy Scout troops, but the Pentagon insists it has done nothing to diminish its support for Scouting.
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., talks to Boy Scouts on Capitol steps in 2001.
Responding to news of a deal to settle an issue in a lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, American Legion National Commander Thomas P. Cadmus wrote, “The idea that sponsorship of Scouting by American military units is ‘unconstitutional’ goes beyond the absurd, even well past the point of stupidity.”
The ACLU contends the government has improperly supported a group that requires members to believe in God.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Richard told WorldNetDaily, however, the agreement should be seen as a resolution to a narrow part of the lawsuit, which only requires the Defense Department to clarify its stated policy against sponsorship of non-federal organizations.
“We don’t believe the Boy Scouts will suffer in terms of support within the military community,” he said, noting troops still can meet in civilian venues on bases, and personnel will continue to serve in a private capacity as scoutmasters and assistants.
“Our concern is to emphasize to the American people that the Department of Defense still supports the Boy Scouts of America,” Richard said. “It’s an outstanding organization that plays an important role in developing young leaders, and there should be no interpretation that this particular settlement would in any way jeopardize that support.
“What we simply agreed to do, in a limited sense,” he said, “is to remind our commands that official sponsorship of non-federal organizations is prohibited.”
Richard emphasized the Pentagon does not agree with the ACLU’s assessment that its support of the Scouts is unconstitutional and points out that the department still contributes $2 million to the quadrenniel national jamboree, which takes place this year at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia – an issue still subject to litigation in the case.
Nevertheless, the ACLU agreement means 422 Scouting programs will no longer be chartered, or sponsored, by the Department of Defense.
But Richard maintains other groups, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are stepping in to take on the charters and keep the Scout troops on military bases.
With changes under way, were the bases, therefore, previously in violation of Pentagon policy?
“That sounds harsh, to say they were operating against the policy,” Richard replied. “The case may be made that a clarification of the policy was required, and that was undertaken.”
The BSA says it has a total of about 120,000 chartered Scouting programs.
Scout spokesman Gregg Sheilds could not be reached for comment.
Asked if Rumsfeld had a part in the agreement, Richard said it was a “department decision.”
“I can’t comment directly on the secretary’s involvement, but it is a Department of Defense decision, and that speaks for itself,” the Pentagon spokesman said.
Richard said he is not aware of any attempt to review the decision.
In his letter to Rumsfeld, the American Legion’s Cadmus asked, “How is it the government can fund chapels on military bases, and chaplains in the military, but not accommodate Scouting? Why is it that the rank of Eagle Scout is an attribute highly sought in candidates for military academies, but will soon become unwelcome on military bases? How is it the Congress can sanction Scouting by issuing them a federal charter, but the courts can declare them ‘outlaws?'”
Cadmus asked Rumsfeld, “Where is the outrage?” in Congress or the White House, noting there is plenty of anger among the 2.7 million Legion members over legal action taken against the Scouts in recent years.
In one of many cases related to its policy against avowed homosexuals in leadership, the U.S. Supreme Court in March allowed Connecticut to exclude the Boy Scouts of America from a state charitable program.
Cadmus urged Rumsfeld “to hold the line of assault on the Scouts. Stand up to the ACLU. Find a way to give those who serve our nation the chance to serve their children.”
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