ACLU of Illinois Sues to End Government Sponsorship of Boy Scout Programs

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
April 14, 1999 12:00 am

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CHICAGO — A class action suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in U.S. District Court today seeks to end federal and Illinois government sponsorship of Boy Scouts of America programs.

The suit charges that because the Boy Scouts exclude individuals who do not affirm a belief in God, the government agencies that operate these programs are in violation of the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.

Filed by the ACLU of Illinois on behalf of five taxpayers, the suit charges that the federal and local agencies enforce the Boy Scouts’ policy requiring religious oaths. The government agencies also impermissibly discriminate against individuals because of their religious beliefs.

Scott Air Force Base is the named defendant representing all federal agencies that expend federal tax monies in sponsorship Scout programs. The Chicago Public Schools is the named defendant representing the various Illinois state and local agencies that expend Illinois tax monies in sponsoring their Scout troops.

The plaintiffs in this case, all state and federal taxpayers, are longtime supporters of civil rights.

Eugene Winkler is a Methodist pastor, and Gary Gerson is a Reform rabbi. Timuel Black has been a teacher and an advocate for civil rights for decades. Douglas Ferguson is an Eagle Scout and civil rights supporter. And Mary Cay Marubio is active in Chicago’s gay and lesbian community.

“Religious freedom requires a firm wall separating church and state,” Winkler said. “When the government requires any citizen to affirm a religious belief, that wall is endangered.”

“As a Scout I learned values like fairness and respect,” Ferguson said. “I cannot support programs that use my tax dollars to discriminate.”

The lawsuit does not challenge the Boy Scouts’ own policy limiting membership based on religious belief. Rather, the suit challenges the enforcement of that policy by government agencies. Federal, state, and local governments all are prohibited by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution from discriminating between citizens on the basis of religion.

“Government agencies simply cannot spend tax dollars on programs that exclude some people because of religious belief,” said ACLU staff counsel Roger Leishman. “The wall between church and state is necessary to protect religion, government, and individuals.”

Leishman is the lead attorney on the case. Other attorneys included ACLU of Illinois’ Legal Director Harvey Grossman, Senior Staff Attorney Jane Whicher, and staff Attorney Morris Lipson.

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