Public Schools Aid Bigoted Boy Scouts (March 1995)

Elliott Welsh discovered to his dismay last fall that his area public schools in Hinsdale, Illinois, are distributing recruitment flyers for the discriminatory Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

That came as a special insult to Welsh, who recently pursued a lawsuit in federal court after BSA discriminated against his family. His son Mark was solicited through the public schools to join Scouts, then was refused membership because his family is not religious. His lawsuit charging that BSA violated his family’s rights under the Civil Rights Act was dismissed by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which ruled that Scouting is not a “place of public accommodation.”

In response to his public school’s continued support of Boy Scouts, Welsh wrote his Superintendent: “In-school promotion or endorsement of organizations which practice invidious racial or religious discrimination against any person is wrong.”

Welsh notes that his concern is not academic: “Next year, unless District policy is changed, my son Patrick will, at age six, be invited to join the Tiger Cubs in his own first-grade public school classroom,” inviting a replay of experience that brought about their lawsuit.

“If the Boy Scouts did as the Girl Scouts, or the Y Indian Princesses or Indian Guides, and welcomed every child it invited, I would have no objection.”

Welsh is asking that Boy Scout flyers identify its private nature, its explicit religious test for membership and carry a warning that “while it may invite ‘all boys’ to join or attend, it does not allow ‘all boys’ to participate.”

In a similar complaint, Foundation member Dennis Coyier protested distribution of misleading Boy Scout literature through the public schools of Monona Grove, Wisconsin, as well as waiver of rent. Thanks to his complaint, nominal rent will now be charged.

But in January the school board adopted a policy that continues to permit Scouts to distribute material through the schools claiming “all boys” can join.

Its original policy draft stated: “The use of school facilities shall not be permitted to groups which discriminate against or reflect negatively upon others on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, age, or handicap.” It also said materials could not be posted or distributed which promoted a religious or political agenda.

When Coyier pointed out that Boy Scouts discriminate on the basis of religion, the board voted to strike the words “creed” and “religious agenda” from the draft.

“All in all, it’s been a closet-opening experience,” Coyier noted.

Board Member Jill Wheeler was the sole objector: “This is within the letter of the law, but I question if it is in the spirit of the law.”

“Until the Boy Scouts of America change the wording of their creedal test to accept all district families, its cozy welcome in public schools will continue to be challenged,” Coyier promised.

Also protesting solicitation for Boy Scouts through the public schools are Foundation members Steven and Carole Wells of Idaho, whose children brought home an “Activities Packet” promoting Scouts. The couple attended the sign-up meeting (in a Catholic church).

In a letter of complaint to their schools, they wrote:

“We were told that ‘God is an important part of the program’ and that one must believe in God to become a Scout.

“Since our family is religion-free, we cannot subscribe to the ‘Declaration of Religious Principle’ and therefore cannot participate in scouting. The exclusion of nonbelievers by the Boy Scouts should disqualify them from public school support.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation