A federal appeals court has tossed out a challenge to the U.S. military’s support of the Boy Scouts.
On April 4, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiffs in the ACLU-sponsored case from Illinois do not have standing to bring a lawsuit against the governmental subsidy. A federal law authorizes the U.S. military to provide equipment and food and help coordinate the National Scout Jamboree that occurs every four years at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.
A three-judge panel held that since the plaintiffs do not have the right to challenge the law, it would not have to “reach the complex question whether aid to a civic organization that conditions membership on a particular religious belief but that does not otherwise exclude people from its activities violates” church-state separation.
Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the 7th Circuit to rule against public aid to the Boy Scouts, which requires belief in God for membership.
“The government cannot underwrite with dollars to private entities the religious discrimination that the First Amendment forbids it to engage in directly,” AU asserted.
The Scouts have been conducting the national gathering since 1937, with the military providing equipment, money and logistical and other services. In 1972, Congress passed a law authorizing the military and other departments of the federal government to provide assistance to the Scout event. The court noted that the military spent $6 million on the 1997 Jamboree, nearly $8 million in 2001 and was ready to spend more than $7 million on the 2005 Jamboree.
In its Winkler v. Gates ruling, the 7th Circuit said plaintiffs needed to show that public dollars were directed to the religious organization by the “taxing and spending” powers of Congress. The appellate panel found that the military support of the Scouts emanated more from congressional powers to establish a military and, to a lesser extent, federal property clauses.