Court rejects ACLU over federal Scout policy

WASHINGTON, D.C., — A federal appeals court has rejected an ACLU-backed lawsuit claiming the government's support of an event sponsored every four years by the Boy Scouts of America violates the separation of church and state.

A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago dismissed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense, which provides support for the BSA's National Scout Jamboree. The ACLU-supported plaintiffs had argued that the Pentagon's help with the event on military property infringed the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion.

The BSA requires members to believe in God.

The Seventh Circuit panel did not determine if the federal policy violates the establishment clause, instead ruling the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to make such a challenge.

"This is just another example of the ACLU trying to impose its flawed view of the Constitution on the rest of America," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a written release.

The ACLJ filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the government policy.

"The military provides the Boy Scouts with support and services that aid both the military and the scouts without endorsing religion," he said. "This lawsuit should never have been brought in the first place, and we're pleased the appeals court dismissed the suit, clearing the way for this beneficial relationship between the military and the Boy Scouts to continue."

The Seventh Circuit panel said the 1972 federal law that required the military to support the BSA event is a discharge of Congress' authority under the military and property clauses of the Constitution. It is not an exercise of Congress' tax and spend powers, which are "suitable for a taxpayer challenge," Judge Diane Wood wrote in the panel's April 4 opinion.

The law has a "secular and valid purpose," since it helps the armed forces in "persuading a new generation to join its ranks and in building good will," Wood wrote.

The panel's ruling reversed a federal judge's decision.

The National Jamboree has been held every four years since 1981 at Fort A.P. Hill, a U.S. Army base in Caroline County, Va.

The Department of Defense and ACLU had agreed in late 2004 to a partial settlement in the case, with the Pentagon saying it would inform its military bases worldwide they should not officially sponsor Boy Scout units. The BSA said, however, the agreement did not prevent scouting units from meeting on military property or armed services members from participating in a civilian capacity.

BP News

Published, May 2007