Boy Scouts Experience Backlash After the Dale Decision

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - In the wake of a Supreme Court decision upholding its policy excluding homosexuals from leadership positions, the Boy Scouts of America is finding itself under attack from opponents of the group's policies.

On Capitol Hill, a House Democrat reportedly planned to introduce legislation this week repealing the Boy Scouts' federal charter, an honorary designation given to the organization in 1916.

"We're not saying they're bad," said Representative Lynn Woolsey of California. "We're saying intolerance is bad, and I don't see any reason why the federal government should be supporting it."

Perhaps more importantly to the continued health of BSA operations, eight local chapters of the United Way, which nationally gives more than $80 million a year to support Scouting, have over the years withdrawn funding from their local Scout councils, and the national organization says it is reviewing the Supreme Court's Dale decision for "legal ramifications."

United Way chapters in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, CA; New Haven, CT; Somerset County, NJ; Santa Fe, NM; and Portland, ME have anti-discrimination policies that prohibit the groups from funding organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

A spokesperson for the United Way of San Francisco said that the group "simply could not give money to any organization that supports sexual orientation discrimination," and added that they came to their decision after pressure from homosexual groups.

The United Way of America, the national organization that oversees more than 1,400 local chapters across the US, said in a statement that the actions had "no bearing on any other United Way or Boy Scout Council across the country."

"United Way of America, as the national membership service and training organization for local United Way organizations, does not dictate policy or funding decisions to local United Ways except to the extent that funding decisions must be consistent with applicable laws," said the group.

The statement continues, "Withdrawing donor support for a United Way in any one community has no bearing upon the policy set by another local United Way."

However, Philip Jones, spokesperson for United Way of America, said that the organization's legal counsel was "reviewing the decision if there would be any legal ramifications concerning our desire to be a non-discriminatory organization."

The United Way of Providence, RI, has recently set in place policies that will likely result in the withdrawal of funding for local Scout troops, a move that would cost the Narragansett Boy Scout Council, which covers Rhode Island and a portion of Massachusetts, close to 5 percent of its annual $4 million budget.

In a statement on the new policy, the Narragansett Council said that withdrawal of the $200,000 grant would harm programs for "inner-city boys who benefit from our Scout Reach," but added that the council "will do what it must to make certain those boys are not abandoned or forgotten."

David Preston, spokesperson for the Council, explained that, "While suburban Scout groups are generally self-sufficient, inner-city groups [like Narragansett] rely on donors to fund Scouting programs."

Peg Byron, a spokesperson for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the group that brought suit in a New Jersey court on behalf of James Dale, an assistant scoutmaster who was stripped of his post after revealing his homosexuality, said that the group would continue to pressure United Way chapters to withdraw their funding.

"In Dale," said Byron, "the Boy Scouts claimed the right to discriminate. Well, now they have to live with that label, and we'll continue to pressure their supporters to send the message that it's not right to teach hate to children."

To many Boy Scouts leaders and officials, the attacks on the Scouts' congressional charter and funding were expected.

"We certainly expected there would be a reaction from the other side," said an official with the local Boy Scouts council in Portland, ME. "It would be nice if we were simply allowed to do what we do, but it seemed clear that was too much to ask."