ACLU War on the Boy Scouts

It is the sort of community project that is so common around the United States that it does not merit the attention of the news, but it remains extraordinary nonetheless. Like many Boy Scout troops around the country, one in Ellicott City Maryland finds itself concerned about former scouts who are now serving overseas in life-threatening situations. The threats in Iraq are certainly more immediate for those who helped raise the young adults who are now serving there.

This particular Maryland troop organized to send a 30-pound box of food, toiletries and other items to one of its Eagle Scouts now in Iraq. One thing that an Eagle Scout learns is service to others, so this overseas Eagle Scout wrote about his concern for his fellow soldiers. So not only did this troop manage to send their own Eagle Scout a box from home, but a total of ten boxes, 320 pounds all told, to Iraq. The entire project was conceived and executed in four days.

However, the real gift of these boxes it not tangible. It is not the cans of tuna or packages of crackers or cookies or coffee or CDs or DVDs or magazines that are important, it is the love and support expressed by taking the time and effort to assemble and send the boxes that is the greatest gift. Each box also contained holiday cards created by scouts addressed to the individual soldiers. It is these thoughtful messages that will nourish and sustain the soldiers long after the last cookie in the last box is consumed.

During the same week, it appears that the Department of Defense is capitulating to the demands of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and is no longer permitting military installations to sponsor Boy Scout troops. The egregious offense for which the Boy Scouts of America is being banished is the scout promise:

“…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.”

The ACLU sees an implicit and rigidly enforced theocracy when parents bring their children to scout troops sponsored by military bases. When others look at the Boy Scouts, they see adults helping to guide honorable young men. While the ACLU fears the mention of God in public spaces, others see an authoritarian effort to strip voluntary spirituality from the public square. While the ACLU sees forced religiosity, others see the ACLU trying to deny their right of voluntary association and an attempt to impose their own imperial secularity.

The crux of the ACLU’s argument is that the sponsorship of Boy Scouts is an implicit and unconstitutional endorsement of the idea of a higher being by a government entity. The logical extension of his argument would make the government posting of the Declaration of Independence — you remember the document that speaks of “self-evident” rights endowed by a “Creator” — an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

The scouts have always been open to all religions. There is no question of endorsement of a particular sect or belief. However, if the government does not allow the sponsorship by volunteers at military bases, it is implicitly endorsing a world view that denies the existence of a God. If allowing sponsorship by military bases of a nonsectarian organization that encourages members to seek God in their own way is an endorsement of spirituality, then specifically denying the sponsorship endorses the alternative view, that there is no higher being to which we have an obligation.

In truth, the sponsorship of groups by military organizations, whether they are the Boy Scouts or the Boys and Girls Club (who make no specific reference to a higher being), does not constitute a religious “establishment” as prohibited by the First Amendement to the Constitution. This sponsorship represents only an attempt, by volunteers, to help the community and children. If the Pentagon excluded the sponsorship of youth groups unless they mentioned God in their oath, then the ACLU might have a case.

There is irony in the decision to deny sponsorship by the military of Boy Scouts troops for not being sufficiently inclusive, when the scouts where racially integrated long before the military. There is also a deeper irony is the fact that former Boy Scouts are fighting in Iraq against real theocratically-motivated oppression, while some at home are fighting against an organization that helped instill in these soldiers a deep respect for religious tolerance.

In the last election, there was a significant portion of the voters who expressed a concern about “moral values.” For some on the Left, “moral values” is code language for particular issues like abortion rights or same-sex “marriage.” This is far too narrow a view. “Moral issues” is also an umbrella term that includes the assault on community values and community organizations by intolerant legal bullies like the ACLU. If the Democratic leadership desires have a meaningful dialogue with those for whom moral issues are important, they need to refrain from allying themselves with bullying legal organizations like the ACLU and refrain from supporting an infinitely malleable legal jurisprudence that empowers such bullies. This is particularly true for litigious bullies who scare the Defense Department into a decision that hurts boys and young men.

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