WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives approved a proposal that would ensure Boy Scouts access to public schools in a measure inspired by a Florida county's attempt to ban the group because of the organization's anti-gay policy.
Language in the measure, tacked onto an education reform bill Wednesday, was lifted directly from a court order overturning the Broward County, Fla., school board's decision to ban the Boy Scouts, said Michael Goode, spokesman for Rep. Van Hilleary, R-Tenn., a bill sponsor.
The proposal, approved on a voice vote, says the Boy Scouts of America "or any other youth group" should be given the same access to school facilities.
The Broward County School Board said it had a right to keep the Boy Scouts out because the organization's decision to prohibit gays violated the board's nondiscrimination policy.
Boy Scouts of America sued the board, arguing they had the same right to use the schools' facilities as other groups. In March, U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks granted a preliminary injunction permitting the Scouts to use school facilities and buses after hours.
Under the House proposal, a school district that did not grant equal access to facilities could lose most of its federal funding.
The Boy Scouts "should not have to use their precious resources defending their constitutional rights in court, nor should the school systems have to use their precious resources defending against the Boy Scouts in court," Hilleary said during floor debate.
Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., argued against the amendment
"This amendment is not about the Boy Scouts, it's about a conservative social agenda that holds passionate views about sexual orientation," Delahunt said. "They ought not be able to use the Congress of the United States to make a political statement that promotes intolerance and discrimination."
The Broward school board's lawyer, Marylin Batista, said she could not comment on the measure until she reviewed it, but the school board would follow Middlebrooks' order.
Jeffrie Herrmann, the Scouts' South Florida Council executive director, had not heard of the amendment.
"I don't know if we need congressional help ... We've already received an injunction," he said.