Activist Groups Urge Obama to Reject Boy Scout Honor

President Obama says he wants to be president of all the people. But some groups are urging him to make an exception for the Boy Scouts of America.

Critics of the Scouts who are outraged that the group is allowed to exclude gays and atheists while receiving federal funding are urging Obama to reject the group's honorary presidency, a designation bestowed on every U.S. president since William Howard Taft in 1910.

"I'm hoping and praying he turns down the honorary presidency," said Howard Menzer, president of Scouting for All, which advocates for inclusion of gays into the Boy Scouts.

"No way should he be involved with a discriminatory group. That would be the best thing that could happen if he said, 'You discriminate too much for me. I can't be your honorary president.' I think that might begin to change a few things."

Obama was meeting with a delegation of the Boy Scouts in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon, at which time he was to accept the group's 2008 Report to the Nation.

A Boy Scouts spokesman said Obama has indicated he will accept the title of honorary president.

"We believe one of our greatest strengths as a nation is that we can disagree on a number of issues while agreeing to support the common good," Deron Smith, a spokesman for BSA, told

"We're a voluntary, private organization for families that share our values," he added. "While many may disagree with our policies, there's no question that we're part of the common good and have been for 100 years."

The White House did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

As a presidential candidate, Obama provoked fears from conservative groups that his policies would undermine the Scouts. Focus on the Family Action wrote a hypothetical letter last year imagining the consequences of an Obama presidency. In the "Letter from 2012" in Obama's America, the Boy Scouts disbanded rather than obey a decision forcing them to allow homosexual scoutmasters.

The group, which is a cultural action organization separate from Focus on the Family, backed away from that rhetoric during an interview with

"The Boy Scouts are a venerable faith-based institution in our country. And the president could celebrate diversity by accepting that honorary status," said Tom Minnery, senior vice president of public policy for the group.

"We hope the White House will keep its hands off the Boy Scouts," he said. "The courts have settled the question."

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the Scouts can bar homosexuals from being troop leaders.

Because of the Boy Scouts' exclusionary practices, some public schools across the country tried to limit or end their ties with the organization. But in 2001 the federal government ordered public schools to keep their doors open to the Scouts. And Congress, responding to the threat of campus lockouts, voted to cut federal funding to any school that banned the Scouts or any similar group from "open forum" access.

Taxpayers also fund Boy Scout activities with several millions of dollars through military personnel, federal land use and other assistance. Taxpayers doled out roughly $8 million for the 2005 Jamboree, held every four years.

Gay and atheist activists now hope Obama will signal his disapproval of the Boy Scouts practices or turn the federal faucet off.

The American Humanist Association, along with 18 other nontheistic, atheist and agnostic organizations, sent a letter to Obama in January urging him to reject the title of honorary president.

"The BSA has elected to set itself apart as a private organization that may discriminate in ways contrary to the laws and practices required of local, state, and federal authorities," the letter reads.

"Accepting the title and role of honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America would thus send the message that institutional discrimination against people who don't happen to believe in a god is acceptable."

AHA president David Niose pointed out that Obama was raised by a mother he described as a secular humanist.

"As such, he surely realizes that, if he were to accept the current Boy Scout standard, he would be endorsing discrimination against the same value system under which he was raised."