On Thursday, the Philadelphia City Council voted 16 to 1 to eject the Boy Scouts from a headquarters building they’ve been using since 1928. The agreement 79 years ago was that the Scouts’ Cradle of Liberty Council could lease the building at a low cost “in perpetuity.” Now, the city is bringing its partnership with the Boy Scouts to an end.

What is it that the Philadelphia City Council is so upset about? Well, it goes like this: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” That’s the Scout Oath, which every Scout knows by heart and strives to live by.

When I was a new Scout, my scoutmaster told me, “If you can live by the Scout Oath and Law, you’ll live a pretty good life.” Just like everybody, a Scout isn’t perfect; I’m far from perfect. But when it comes to the character that a Scout tries to establish for himself, the standard is high.

The standard is high, but it isn’t much higher than the standard of self-government that is required if we are to be a free people in this country. Scouting teaches self-government, and in doing so it serves a purpose government could never fulfill. Through example, instruction and experience, Scouts learn the essentials of citizenship. In this way, Scouting has been an indispensable support of government at every level.

It makes sense, then, that government would partner with the Boy Scouts. Since government can’t do everything, it needs to recognize the other institutions with which it can and should work. Those institutions include the family, the church, businesses and community organizations. Working in alliance with the network of private associations and institutions that form the intricate fabric of American society, government can best promote the “general welfare” spoken of in the preamble to the Constitution.

But when government arrogates to itself the power to punish private organizations for their policies, something is wrong. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts have the right to determine their own membership standards. Following that decision, thousands of public schools and cities, many by court order following ACLU lawsuits, have cut off long-standing relationships with the Scouts. The basis is generally one of two claims: A) when the Scouts partner with local government, their exclusion of atheists is a violation of the First Amendment “separation of church and state,” and B) when the Scouts partner with local governments that have nondiscrimination codes protecting homosexuals, their exclusion of homosexuals is discrimination and therefore grounds for severing the partnership.

But the Boy Scouts have never forced anyone in Philadelphia to abide by the Scout Oath. That Scouts do abide by the Scout Oath should not be the grounds for a broken relationship with the city. As far as the city is concerned, the membership requirements of a private organization are none of its business. What the Scouts do to help the city is very much the city’s business.

It is the Boy Scouts who are completing Eagle Scout service projects.

It is the Boy Scouts who are picking up litter along the highways, volunteering in homeless shelters, mentoring inner city kids and teaching life skills to millions of kids from every religious, racial and socioeconomic background.

It is the Boy Scouts who are making a difference in Philadelphia, and in every community across America.

It is the Boy Scouts who deserve the assistance of city councils and school boards as they look for places to hold meetings and recruit new members.

Instead, the Scouts are derided as a discriminatory group of bigots. Instead, they are likened to the Taliban, as the Philadelphia Daily News did a few years ago. Instead, they are given a year until they will be thrown out of the Philadelphia headquarters building they’ve been using for nearly 80 years.

Philadelphia is a great old city, the birthplace of our nation. The founders of this country believed self-government was the requisite for constitutional government. We must have men and women of character before we have free institutions. Without character, we are fit to be ruled by a tyrant.

And so it is the tyranny of political correctness has overturned the cradle of liberty. The city council’s message to the 40,000 Boy Scouts in Philadelphia is one they shouldn’t even be allowed to hear. The message is that the city of Philadelphia no longer supports the idea of self-government on which our Constitution rests.

All we can do now is e-mail Philadelphia Mayor John Street and let him know where we stand on this matter.

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