US House Urges Strong Links Between Pentagon and Boy Scouts

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - The U.S. House of Representatives this week injected itself into the debate over whether American military bases should be allowed to publicly sponsor Boy Scout chapters, a practice that the Pentagon suspended in November in order to settle a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

While a Pentagon spokesman insisted that there has been no significant change in the military's relationship with the Boy Scouts as a result of the legal settlement, House Republicans wanted the chamber to go on the record in support of the Scouts.

The "sense of the Congress" resolution sponsored by U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), stating that the Pentagon "should continue to exercise its long-standing authority to support the activities of the Boy Scouts of America," passed overwhelmingly on Wednesday, 418-7.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) hailed the passage. "The Boy Scouts of America are a national treasure. They have taught generations of American boys the fundamentals of patriotism, community service, and good citizenship," he stated.

The U.S. military and the Boy Scouts have a long history of benefiting each other, borrowing from the concept actually established by a British general in the 19th century who founded the Boy Scouts. Those first Boy Scouts served as messengers to relieve combat troops of the task of delivering messages between forts.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the U.S. military has sponsored hundreds of Boy Scout troops around the nation and the Pentagon has earmarked a $2 million federal expenditure for the Scouts and the organization's annual "National Jamboree" conference scheduled for July 25-Aug. 3 in Caroline County, Va.

But in November, the Pentagon announced that its military bases would no longer be permitted to officially sponsor Boy Scout troops or meetings because of the Scout oath that includes a promise to fulfill a "duty to God." The reference to God was at the center of the Illinois ACLU's complaint, with the group arguing that taxpayer money should not be spent to endorse the religious beliefs of the Boy Scouts.

Lt. Col. Joe Richard, a spokesman for the Defense Department, told the Cybercast News Service Wednesday that the department was "fully still supportive of the Boy Scouts.

"Nothing that has been decided with the ACLU will diminish that," Richard said. The Defense Department was simply "making some adjustments based on current regulations, but our support ... to the Boy Scouts will not diminish in any significant manner."

Ed Yohnka, communications director for the Illinois ACLU, said the U.S. House resolution "doesn't have any impact on our case.

"Frankly," Yohnka said, "Congress is free to do what it wants to in terms of a resolution." He added that "we don't really have any view on what they're doing."

The Pentagon's decision to provide $2 million for the Boy Scout jamboree is an issue over which the Illinois ACLU indicated it "raised concern," but those plans were unaffected by the settlement of the group's lawsuit.

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