President Bush waves to crowd before addressing 2005 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia (photo: www.bsajamboree.org)
Ninety members of Congress filed a brief yesterday with a federal appeals court declaring support for the U.S. Defense Department in its sponsorship of the Boy Scouts of America’s national jamboree.
The department’s backing of the quadrennial event, attended this year by more than 40,000 Scouts, was opposed in a 1999 lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU contends federal government sponsorship violates the First Amendment, because the Boy Scouts require members to swear an oath to “do my duty to God and my country.”
The next jamboree is scheduled for 2010 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America.
Represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, the lawmakers’ friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit seeks a reversal of a lower court decision that declared the Defense Department’s sponsorship unconstitutional.
The 1972 statute passed by Congress, the lower court declared, violates the so-called “separation of church and state.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, says the lower court simply “got it wrong.”
“The military provides the Boy Scouts with support and services that aid both the military and the Scouts without endorsing religion,” he said.
The ACLJ contends the purpose of the bill passed by Congress was to advance the military’s goals, not advance the Boy Scouts’ religious beliefs.
The brief asserts the Defense Department’s support comes in the form of “non-religious supplies and services.”
“The military’s rental of forklifts and trucks, transportation and military equipment, restoration of Fort A.P. Hill after the Jamboree, and provision of other secular services is clearly ‘neutral and nonideological,’” the brief said. “The only possible message that the military’s aid can be viewed as conveying is that patriotism, self-reliance, physical fitness and support of the military are positive things.”
In March, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., introduced legislation to make sure the Boy Scouts of America can use government facilities for gatherings, meetings and events.
The ”Support Our Scouts Act of 2005″ would protect the organization from attacks by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups challenging federal support for the BSA because the organization administers a religious oath and prohibits homosexuals as scout masters.
The Pentagon last year settled a lawsuit by telling military bases around the world not to become direct sponsors of Boy Scout troops or Cub Scout dens. Military personnel can now sponsor Boy Scout groups only in their civilian capacity.
As WorldNetDaily reported, the threat of lawsuits by the ACLU has forced the BSA to pull the charters of thousands of scouting units from public schools.
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