Published August 19, 2002
For 150 years the Boys & Girls Clubs of America has been serving children. But now, in a case that resembles the furor over the Pledge of Allegiance, it is under fire for religious language.
The Boys & Girls Club of Navy Hawaii at the Pearl Harbor naval base condemns the use of 'God' in the club's code and membership card.
"I believe in God and the right to worship according to my own faith and religion," the code reads, and it also mentions supporting America's Constitution and core values.
"It's time for the government to simply move away from promoting monotheism or God," said Mitch Kahle, head of Hawaii's Citizens for the Separation of State and Church.
The Boys & Girls Clubs, which serves over three million children through 3,103 club locations nationwide, according to its Web site, has a code that violates the Constitution, said Kahle.
But Evan McElroy, vice president for marketing and communication for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, said the code is "not an oath."
"It's not something that any young person is obligated to say or to use -- it's simply a guideline … it talks about religious faith, it talks about patriotism, it talks about fair play in sportsmanship," he said.
"Would you like to have to sign a card issued by the U.S. government that makes you sign that you have some sort of religious belief that is different from your own?" Kahle asked. "If you don't believe in God, signing a card that says 'I believe in God' is patently offensive."
Critics argue that since the Boys & Girls Clubs accepts federal funds, it must eliminate God from its rhetoric.
But others believe the organization has the right to invoke religious belief. Just like the Boy Scouts, private organizations that have a core set of principles are protected by the Constitution under the freedom of association act, explained Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation.
The Navy Hawaii club is compromising -- it will continue to issue cards with the reference to God but it will also issue cards without the code to those who request it.