Equal access for Boy Scouts

By Hans Zeiger

Editor’s note: Hans Zeiger has been selected as one of 10 youth finalists for a primetime speaking position at the Republican National Convention, scheduled for Aug. 30 – Sept. 2 in New York City. To determine who the speaker will be, MTV and the Republican National Convention are holding an online contest where you can vote for one of the 10 finalists. Voting is open through Aug. 9.

For a few years, the Montgomery County Board of Education in Maryland has been at war against the Boy Scouts. After the latest attack, return fire is appropriate. On July 29, the Montgomery County school board voted 7-1 to prohibit the Boy Scouts, along with Bible clubs and other religious or community organizations, from providing literature for schools to distribute to students or parents in classrooms or at community-interest tables.

Montgomery County’s war on the Boy Scouts began in 2002, when the nation’s 18th-largest school district abandoned its long-standing policy of allowing the Boy Scouts to use school facilities for free. Activist Eugene Delgaudio of Public Advocate of the United States alleged that the Montgomery County Board of Education had based its decision on disagreements with Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Boy Scouts to exclude homosexuals from membership.

Under the 2001 Education Act amended by Sen. Jesse Helms to restrict money to anti-Boy Scout school districts, the Montgomery County schools risked losing $40 million. The district was not penalized, but the Scouts were apparently penalized for staying true to “morally straight” in the Scout Oath. The Scouts have had to pay thousands of dollars since 2002 in order to hold meetings in Montgomery County school buildings.

As if imposing rent on the Boy Scouts were not enough, the Montgomery County Board of Education has now told the Scouts that they cannot provide recruitment literature to students at school.

The school board first told a Bible club several years ago that it could not distribute flyers to students. The Bible club sued and won a decision in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that they must have equal access to hand out the flyers. By way of “equalizing” things to comply with the federal court decision, the Montgomery County Board of Education passed its new policy to officially ban organizations from distributing literature instead of including all groups who wanted access.

So no one is allowed to hand out organizational papers, platforms, pleas, or other propaganda anymore, right? No one, except for daycare centers, non-profit sports teams, government welfare agencies, anti-drug campaigns, computer clubs, sex-education drives, chess clubs, honor societies, PTAs, little leagues and recreation leagues. In other words, almost the only groups that can’t distribute their literature anymore are Boy Scouts and Bible clubs.

The goal of the new policy, said school board Vice President Patricia O’Neill, is “to keep out proselytizing pieces of literature.”

Of course, the Boy Scouts are “proselytes” for two reasons: They believe in God and they believe in the traditional bond of marriage. Atheism and homosexuality are prohibited in the ranks of Scouting, so the Scouts are among the banned-literature groups in the Montgomery County Board of Education’s new policy.

The new policy destroys an important connection that a student has to become involved in his community, to discover new opportunities, interests and ideas, to become a Boy Scout. Assistant Scoutmaster Stephen Robillard of Troop 496 in Poolesville, Md., told the Washington Post, “We won’t be able to sustain our membership with this new policy. It cuts off our primary means of communicating with parents.”

Fortunately, Boy Scouts of America officials are discussing legal action against the school district to restore true equal access.

And why, if the school board has any sort of concern for its students and their development, should it be interested in allowing for Scouts to recruit in school? I can testify that I learned far more in the Boy Scouts – at summer camp, on 50-mile hikes, reading the Boy Scout Handbook, atop mountain peaks, listening to the wisdom of my scoutmaster, in canoes, leading volunteer projects, studying life and character – than I ever learned in the classrooms of a public school.

And maybe the Montgomery County school board is of the mind that they, and they alone should have the authority over the molding and shaping of their students. But I rather think that a well-rounded boy ought to find his way into a Boy Scout troop if he is to become a man in our time. Few organizations remain so strong and so devoted to a set of old and proven truths that set the course of a young man, that light up a community, that empower a nation.

For now, the Montgomery County Board of Education clings to political correctness. Let us cling even harder to the Scout Oath and Law. And while we’re at it, let’s e-mail the school board.