CHICAGO – A federal judge has ruled the Pentagon can no longer spend millions in government money to ready a Virginia military base for a national Boy Scout event typically held every four years, the American Civil Liberties Union (search) announced Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning's June 22 order stems from a 1999 lawsuit by the ACLU of Illinois that claimed the Defense Department (search) sponsorship violates the First Amendment because the Scouts require members to swear an oath of duty to God.
Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said Thursday the government was still considering its options.
The order doesn't cover this year's National Scout Jamboree (search), which start July 25 and is expected to draw more than 40,000 people to the Army's Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.
A Scouts spokesman said he expects the Pentagon's lawyers to appeal.
"We are confident that an appeal to the 7th Circuit will return everything to the status quo," Bob Bork said.
ACLU of Illinois spokesman Ed Yohnka said no other youth organization receives millions of dollars in government support, and that the injunction is the latest step toward ending the Scouts' unfair advantage.
The Defense Department notified the Chicago federal court in April that it would support this summer's jamboree, despite a ruling by Manning in March that the department's aid was unconstitutional. The government argued at the time that the ruling wasn't final.
The government aid, which amounted to $6 million and $8 million respectively for the jamborees in 1997 and 2001, was used to transport military personnel and other goods there, according to Manning's March order. The government expected to pay about $7.3 million for this year's jamboree.
Jamboree activities include archery, biking, a confidence course, environmental conservation programs and kayaking, according to the Scouts' Web site.
The Rev. Eugene Winkler, a Methodist minister who is one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he got involved because he did not agree with the use of taxpayer money to support the Scouts.
"We're not attacking the Scouts and neither is the ACLU," Winkler said. "This issue is not about the Boy Scouts at all. It's about government funding for religious purposes. It's about separation" of church and state.