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Boy Scout ruling a triumph of intolerance

Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, the American Civil Liberties Union is seeking to prevent San Diego youth from enjoying outdoor activities at Camp Balboa and the Youth Aquatic Center, facilities run by the Boy Scouts of America on land leased from the city of San Diego.

In June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the ACLU in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, after a decade of harassing litigation, to uphold the Boy Scouts' right to hold and enforce beliefs as an organization.

Just two months later, the ACLU launched a mean-spirited lawsuit here in San Diego to remove the Boy Scouts from its long-term leases in Balboa Park and Fiesta Island. The ACLU's newest argument is that, because the Boy Scouts profess a belief in God, they discriminate and therefore must be evicted.

In July 2003, and again in April of this year, the ACLU has convinced a federal district judge to accept its extremist position. Judge Napoleon Jones has become the first jurist in America to rule that a city must discriminate against a nonprofit organization for professing a belief in God. What would the Founding Fathers think?

Judge Jones' ruling will undoubtedly be reversed on appeal, but at great expense to the Boy Scouts -- and to the taxpayers of San Diego who, through the weak-willed City Council, agreed last December to pay the ACLU nearly a million dollars in costs and fees. The Boy Scouts will have to sell a lot of popcorn to overcome the ACLU's San Diego taxpayer-funded war chest. Only Mayor Dick Murphy and Councilman Jim Madaffer courageously voted against this bizarre settlement.

I must confess to a personal interest in this, as I'm an active Scouting volunteer with my two sons. I've stayed overnight at Camp Balboa, and last summer my son and I enjoyed a week at the Youth Aquatic Center, which was financed and built by the Scouts at no cost to the city. Using boats, instructors and equipment provided by the Scouts, the boys learned to sail, canoe, kayak and safely operate a motorboat. They swam, earned merit badges and sang songs around a campfire. They enjoyed each other and the outdoors, without television, PlayStations, MTV or Discmans.

Other than a nondenominational grace before meals, a ritual as inoffensive as the reference to God on our currency, I witnessed nothing that week that any "reasonable observer" would characterize as "religious."

Judge Jones' ruling rests on the premise that the Boy Scouts -- solely because of their belief in God -- is a "religious organization," and that by allowing the Scouts to lease city-owned land it is therefore "advancing religion" and "religious indoctrination." On this basis, Judge Jones concluded that the lease is invalid and the Scouts must be evicted, despite the fact that the Boy Scouts invested millions of dollars in capital improvements.

This position clearly amounts to intolerance of and discrimination against religious belief, an affront to the First Amendment unsupported by Supreme Court precedent. As the U.S. Department of Justice succinctly stated, "the Boy Scouts of America is not a church, and canoeing, kayaking and swimming are not religious activities."

According to the ACLU, only groups who profess "acceptable" beliefs have civil rights; those who don't (such as the Boy Scouts) must be ostracized. For reasons that I cannot fathom, the ACLU, which zealously defends the free speech rights of reprehensible groups such as the KKK, the Nazis and the North American Man/Boy Love Association, is on a crusade against the Boy Scouts, solely because it professes a belief in God.

What is so important about preventing kids from enjoying what the Boy Scouts have to offer? Is the ACLU so hostile to religious belief that they would prefer to have children hanging out at the shopping mall, exposed to the influence of gangs and drugs, rather than camping, swimming and canoeing at facilities operated by the Boy Scouts? And unfortunately, inner city youth will probably suffer the most from the ACLU's actions.

This litigation must be seen for what it really is -- an attempt by a vocal minority to impose its religion-free beliefs on a predominantly religious majority of Americans.

In an Orwellian slip, Jordan Budd, the ACLU's legal director in San Diego, reportedly said that the Boy Scouts "could resolve the issue and stay on Fiesta Island and in Balboa Park if they changed their policy," i.e., if they abandoned their belief in God and opposition to homosexuality. The ACLU is attempting to stifle all forms of religious expression and to drive dissenters from the public square. The Boy Scouts are in the ACLU's crosshairs today; tomorrow will it be the Salvation Army, religious charities, or your local church or synagogue? Not just the Boy Scouts, but all Americans who cherish freedom have a big stake in this fight.

Pulliam is a local attorney.

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