WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Tuesday to allow U.S. military bases to continue to host Boy Scouts events, responding to lawsuits and a federal court ruling aimed at severing relationships between the government and the youth group.
The vote came one day after four adult Scout leaders from an Alaska troop were killed on the opening day of the National Scout Jamboree at the Army's Fort A.P. Hill in Bowling Green, Va., when a tent pole apparently struck a power line.
In a 98-0 vote, the Senate approved the provision continuing the hosting of Boy Scout events as part of massive bill setting Defense Department policy for next year. After the vote, Senate leaders decided to put off further debate and votes on the overall bill, probably until fall when Congress returns from a monthlong break.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a former Boy Scout who sponsored the Senate provision, said it is necessary to push back on a spate of lawsuits to limit Boy Scout activities on government property. The provision adopted Tuesday says Boy Scouts should be treated the same as other national youth organizations
Frist said it "removes any doubt that federal agencies may welcome Scouts to hold meetings, go camping on federal property or hold scouting events and public forums" on government property.
In 1999, the ACLU of Illinois filed a lawsuit claiming the Pentagon's sponsorship of such Boy Scout activities violates the First Amendment. The ACLU argues that direct government sponsorship of the group amounts to discrimination.
Civil liberties advocates have assailed the Boy Scouts organization because it bans openly gay leaders and compels members to swear an oath of duty to God.
On June 22, U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning ruled in the ACLU's favor, saying the Pentagon can't spend millions of dollars to sponsor Boy Scout events. She said in an earlier ruling that the government spent between $6 million and $8 million to host the Jamboree on a military base in 1997 and 2001.
The House in November overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution that recognized the Boy Scouts organization for its public service efforts and condemned legal efforts to limit government ties to the organization that has 3.2 million members.