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Schools and Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America has been taking flak in some school districts around the country, but it doesn't lack for friends on Capitol Hill.

During House debate last month over the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, Rep. Van Hilleary, R-Tenn., succeeded in adding language that calls for cutting off federal funding to any school district or state that "discriminates" against the Scouts.

Specifically, it says the Boy Scouts or any other group that excludes homosexuals from membership could not be denied access to schools for after-school meetings if other outside groups were allowed to use those facilities. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., has a similar amendment ready to offer in the Senate.

"School districts across America are now being pressured to kick the Boy Scouts of America out of federally funded public school facilities," Sen. Helms said last month. "It is because the Boy Scouts will not agree to surrender their First Amendment rights, and they will not accept the agenda of the radical left in this country."

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the BSA could maintain its anti-gay policy, many districts have rethought their links to the organization. Some have terminated special privileges, such as campus recruiting for Scouts.

The Broward County, Fla., district sought to bar the Boy Scouts from its facilities altogether. But in March, a federal judge told the school system it could not do that. The judge did allow the district to terminate an agreement giving the group special privileges.

Meanwhile, 29 advocacy groups have banded together in issuing a letter opposing the amendment.

"The Hilleary amendment is an unnecessary, unwarranted intrusion into a local school district's ability to set standards for the use of their own facilities, and bestows upon the Boy Scouts and other youth groups unique rights that are not available to student- led groups," they wrote.

—Eric W. Robelen

Vol. 20, Issue 39, Page 28

Published in Print: June 6, 2001, as Federal File

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