Is The Boy Scouts of America Public or Private?

On Sunday, President Bush www.voanews.com/english/2005-08-01-voa5.cfm addressed a Jamboree of more than 30,000 Boy Scouts in Virginia. He stated, "through the generations, scouts have made America a stronger and better nation." Those critical of www.scouting.org the Boy Scouts of America argue that BSA's exclusion of gays, atheists and females makes America more divided and divisive. One side wishes to strengthen BSA; the other wishes to destroy BSA by forcing politically correct changes upon it.

Over the past two decades, BSA has been both a flash point and the ground of sustained struggle between traditional and PC values.

The central issue is whether BSA is a private or public organization.

If it is a private organization, then BSA does not and should not have to justify its membership policies. It enjoys the same freedom of association and conscience as an individual. A private BSA has the same right to exclude gays as The United Negro College Fund has to exclude whites from scholarships.

But whether BSA is private is not clear, and BSA must bear some responsibility for the www.religioustolerance.org/bsa_1.htm blurring of lines.

That responsibility is also an opportunity. BSA can strike a blow for the right of free association by altering its policies. I do not refer to exclusionary membership policies but to the policy of accepting massive government support, which is the cause of so many blurred lines.

Where is the line clearly drawn?

Public www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&oi=defmore&q=define:public means "of or pertaining to the people; belonging to the people…opposed to private." A public place or organization is typically tax-funded or subsidized, and no one individual has a right to greater access than any other. National parks are an example.

Private www.answers.com/topic/private means "not available for public use, control, or participation…Belonging to a particular person or persons, as opposed to the public or the government." A private place or organization receives no public funding; people become members through invitation or through policies defined by the owners. Your living room is an example.

BSA critics, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), make one strong argument against the organization's private status. BSA enjoys massive and unique tax-funded support from governments both local and federal. On the local level, for example, San Diego was www.aclusandiego.org/boy_scouts/boyscoutsbalboa.htm targeted because it allowed BSA's headquarters to operate in a city-owned park for $1 per year and to use other city-owned facilities without any rent.

On the federal level, the Pentagon provided an www.aclu.org/ReligiousLiberty/ReligiousLiberty.cfm?ID=18644&c=37 estimated $6 to $8 million from 1997 to 2001 to assist a BSA Jamboree -- an event which is traditionally held on military bases.

Linda Hills of the ACLU aptly states, "The Boy Scouts can't have it both ways…If they truly are a private religious organization, free to engage in any form of discrimination they choose, then they are not entitled to a government subsidy."

On June 22nd, U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning (Illinois) agreed. She www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,161881,00.html ruled against continuing the Jamboree's subsidy and, so, refused BSA continued access both to military bases and assistance such as transportation.

On July 26th, in a counter-move, the Senate unanimously voted for military bases to continue hosting BSA events. (The relevant thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SA01342: provision was part of thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SN01042: S.1042 , which will set Defense Department policy for 2006.)

The debate over BSA's status is heating up.

How hot can it get? Three factors make me believe it will sizzle.

First, high court rulings and the Senate are in direct conflict.

Second, the rhetoric I'm reading has turned openly vicious. Consider the following commentary from a BSA critic.

Let me set the context. Four scout leaders www.signonsandiego.com/news/nation/20050725-1716-jamboreedeaths.html were killed last week in an electrical accident. More than 300 boy scouts at the afore-mentioned Jamboree www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,163818,00.html collapsed from heat prostration while waiting for Bush's earlier scheduled arrival that was delayed. Then, www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,164129,00.html lightning killed a BSA leader and a 13-year-old boy during a storm in Sequoia National Park.

The www.advocate.com/exclusive_detail_ektid19260.asp response of The Advocate -- "the Award Winning GLBT [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered] News Site" -- is that "God hates Boy Scouts". The Advocate explained why. "While under the law the Boy Scout stance on gays may be justifiable, socially, morally, it's just plain wrong."

The commentary was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response-in-kind to a Jerry Falwell comment regarding 9-11. Falwell stated, "the gays and the lesbians…I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" He publicly archives.cnn.com/2001/US/09/14/Falwell.apology apologized. I don't believe GLBT will apologize for its glee about the lightning deaths. The Advocate repeated a report, "Screams rang out as the tent caught fire and the men burned," then added, "That's downright Old Testament."

The third reason for increasing divisiveness was offered by WorldNetDaily on www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=45534 July 30th. "If you ever felt like you were sick of seeing the Boy Scouts of America being used for a punching bag by the American Civil Liberties Union and other activists, take heart. Reinforcements are here."

WND referred to Hans Zeiger, whose new book "Get Off My Honor" is described as a counter-offensive in the Boy Scout "war". Each side is preparing for no prisoners taken. That doesn't need to happen.

The first step in avoiding yet another senseless culture "war" is to clearly establish BSA as a public or private organization.

The solution is simple. BSA should cease to accept tax-funding and cut all official ties to government agencies. BSA should live up to its self-declared status as a private organization. This would also be living up to BSA principles: it is the honest and honorable thing to do.

©2007, Wendy McElroy

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Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including her latest book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century. She lives with her husband in Canada. E-Mail. Also, see her daily blog at www.zetetics.com/mac

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