Politics & Policy

Scouting for the Truth

The Times is wrong on the Scouts.

Earlier this week the New York Times ran a front-page story, “Scouts’ Successful Ban on Gays is Followed by Loss in Support.” In the piece, written by Kate Zernike, the Times reported that “in the two months since the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America have a constitutional right to exclude gays, corporate and governmental support for the organization has slipped markedly.”

Zernike’s story is based on her assertion that local Scout troops in Chicago, San Francisco, and San Jose, were told that they no longer have access to parks, schools, and municipal sites.

But according to city and Boy Scout of America officials in Chicago, San Francisco, and San Jose, the Boy Scouts are enjoying a tremendous amount of support, even in the two months since the Supreme Court’s decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.

California state law bars cities from excluding community groups from access to public offices. According to a San Francisco city official, the Scouts are a community group and cannot be excluded from property other community groups can access. California Resolution 18-1386 states that groups, including organizations, associations, and educational programs, cannot be discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, creed, etc. Since the Supreme Court decision, there has been no change in the law. The same California law applies to the city of San Jose. Officials there confirm that there is no such policy, regulation or ordinance which says Boy Scouts cannot have access to parks, schools, and municipal sites.

Frank Erickson, Scout executive for the Santa Clara Co. Boy Scouts of America says, “there’s not one ounce of truth in the report.” Upset with the accusation that children would no longer have access to schools and parks in the area just because they were Scouts, he took it upon himself to contact school and park officials. According to Mr. Erickson, schools and parks in the San Jose area are extremely upset with the misinformation. “Children getting kicked out of playgrounds is beyond silly,” he says.

In Chicago, Boy Scouts continue to have the same access to parks, schools, and municipal sites that other similar groups enjoy. However, prior to 1998, the Chicago area Scouts had special access to sites which were not open to other groups through a charter relationship with the city. The ACLU sued the city, saying that the Scouts should not have special treatment. The case was settled in 1998 and the city of Chicago discontinued their sponsorship of the special charter program. But the Scouts still enjoy the same access to parks as other groups.

Nothing out of the ordinary has happened to change the status of Scouts in the last two months, contrary to the Times’ report. Rebecca Fields, co-educational program director for the Chicago area Boy Scouts of America said, “We have a very good relationship with the city. We have not been denied access to parks, schools, and municipal sites” in Chicago.

Gregg Shields, national spokesman for the Scouts, said “there has been no trend in defection from the Scouts,” adding that the Scouts continue to receive support from individuals, communities, and corporations.

The Times story, which was syndicated in at least five major newspapers, has inspired editorials and arguments around the country about public support for the Scouts. Ms. Zernike, who is on vacation and not available for comment, leaves the reader with the impression that there is a national backlash against the Boy Scouts of America, quoting an anonymous source who says the Scouts are “almost un-American.”

Ms. Zernike does not mention in her article, however, that a majority of Americans support the Boy Scouts’ position. Since her article was published the Department of Justice has even begun looking into ways of limiting the Boy Scouts access to federal lands. In an attempt to counteract this move by the Clinton-Gore Administration, a Capitol Hill source says there is movement in the Republican ranks to offer a resolution offering congressional support of the Boy Scouts. Some suggest that a bill prohibiting the federal government from denying the Scouts access to government lands and benefits is in the offing.

George W. Bush has urged President Clinton to continue his support of the Scouts.


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