Madison, Wisconsin Schools Drop Boy Scout Subsidy (May 1994)

The school board in Madison, Wisconsin, voted unanimously on April 25 to charge rent to Boy Scout troops meeting in school buildings, following a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that such subsidy violates state/church separation.

Anne Gaylor, president of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Foundation, had requested the policy change in September, 1992, following repeated actions by Boy Scouts of America to expel or exclude nonreligious boys.

The school board is still deliberating over a request by local Boy Scout troops to change school board policy to permit distribution of Boy Scout recruitment materials through the schools. The school administration and the Foundation oppose such a move.

At a school board hearing, Dan Barker of the national Foundation summarized the legal challenge by Elliott and Mark Welsh, who sued Boy Scouts of America after Mark, then 7, was solicited to join through his public school teacher. Although the Scout flyer said “Any boy may join,” Mark was turned away from a sign-up meeting in his public school when his father would not sign a required affirmation of religious belief. Welsh’s complaint to his own school system promptly resulted in a policy change stopping Boy Scout distribution in schools and forcing Boy Scout troops to pay rent. The Welshes lost their lawsuit when the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an appeals court decision in the 7th Circuit of Chicago last December, ruling that Boy Scouts is a private organization which may discriminate against nonreligious families.

“The legal record is clear,” Barker noted. “Boy Scouts of America is proud of its discrimination against nonreligious boys.” The organization has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep nonreligious boys out of its ranks.

Also speaking about the problem were Foundation officers Kenneth Taubert and Prof. Michael Hakeem, as well as Foundation member Dennis Coyier, whose son was forced to distribute Boy Scout material to his classmates in a nearby community.

“If it were an all-white group or a group that discriminated against Jews, there would be a public outcry,” noted Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of Freethought Today.

“We are pleased that the Madison school district will no longer waive rental fees for a discriminatory group,” she said. “If every freethinker would complain about their local schools subsidizing or assisting Boy Scout troops, Boy Scouts of America would soon get the message that its bigotry is socially unacceptable.

“Public schools are major recruiters of new Scouts. Very clearly, the public schools should not be recruiting for a youth group which has a religious test for membership, and a record of religious bigotry against children.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation