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National Boy Scout Organization Agrees to End All Local Government Direct Sponsorship of Troops and Packs

For Immediate Release March 18, 2005

Response to ACLU of Illinois Shifts Charters to Private Organizations, Means that Government Officials No Longer will Discriminate Based on Religion as Part of their Official Duties

CHICAGO - Recognizing the import of well-established legal precedent, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America has decided to transfer thousands of charters issued to operate Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs from local government entities across the nation to private organizations. The Boy Scouts decision came in the wake of the Pentagon's agreement in November 2004 to cease direct sponsorship of hundreds of Boy Scout units on military facilities across the United States and overseas, resulting from a negotiated settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

In a letter dated March 11, 2005, the Director of Registration at the Boy Scouts of America National Office notified the ACLU of Illinois that it intended to advise "all local councils to transfer charters issued to government entities to private entities immediately." The Boy Scouts' letter came in response to a February 9th letter from ACLU of Illinois Staff Counsel Adam Schwartz. In his letter, Mr. Schwartz noted the recent action by the Pentagon, and stated that the direct sponsorship of Boy Scout units by local government entities violates the First Amendment because current Boy Scout rules require government officials overseeing the charters: 1) to exclude any youth from membership in the Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts simply because they do not believe in God; and, 2) to compel youth to swear an oath of duty to God. Schwartz noted that direct government sponsorship of BSA units violates the religious liberty of youth who wish to participate but do not want to express a belief in God. The ACLU of Illinois noted that transferring the charters to private organizations would "avoid the need for further litigation in Illinois regarding the direct government sponsorship of Scouting."

The action by the Boy Scouts means little change for the youth participating in Cub Scout Packs and Boy Scout Troops across the nation. Troops and Packs sponsored by private agencies still will have access to public buildings - including public school gymnasiums - and other facilities for meetings and events. Also, off-duty employees of the local government entities, on their own time, still will be able to lead and participate in BSA units.

Local governmental units nationwide directly sponsor more than 10,000 Packs and Troops, according to an official BSA document dated November 2003. The vast majority of those units were sponsored by public schools.

"We applaud this important change by the Boy Scouts of America," said Adam Schwartz of the ACLU of Illinois upon receipt of the BSA letter. "This action simply means that no young person will be denied access to a government-sponsored organization because they refuse to swear a religious oath. Such a requirement - with government officials actually administering the oaths - placed children in the position of having to exhibit a religious belief in order to participate in a government-sponsored activity. This widespread practice violates the guarantee of religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution's First Amendment."

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