November 16, 2004
BY FRANK MAIN
The U.S. Department of Defense has agreed to stop sponsoring the Boy Scouts, according to a legal agreement announced Monday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois sued the Pentagon and other government agencies in 1999, saying their funding of the Boy Scouts was unconstitutional because the organization excluded people who did not swear an oath to God.
"It is critical that the Pentagon send this very clear signal to its units across the globe to insure that government officials are not engaged in religious discrimination in their official capacity," said Charles Peters, a lawyer with the firm Schiff Hardin, who assisted the ACLU of Illinois.
The Pentagon litigation was an offshoot of a 1998 lawsuit against the city of Chicago, which had chartered almost 30 Scouting programs. The city agreed to stop sponsoring the Boy Scouts. The controversy arose when a University of Chicago law student wanted to lead the city's Legal Explorer Post, but balked at affirming his belief in God.
The settlement with the Pentagon affects only 422 of about 120,000 Scouting programs, said Greg Shields of The Boy Scouts of America based in Irving, Texas. Most of those 422 programs were on military bases, he said.
"We have simply transferred the charters to non-military but supportive organizations like VFWs," Shields said.
The Chicago Public Schools, also named in the 1999 lawsuit, previously agreed not to sponsor Boy Scout programs.
Still unresolved in the litigation is whether the Pentagon may provide funding to the Boy Scout Jamboree, which is held every four years and draws tens of thousands of scouts. The Pentagon spends about $2 million a year to support the event, the ACLU says.