Valley Boy Scouts are severing formal ties to schools, fearful the American Civil Liberties Union will sue because the boys pledge allegiance to God.
The Boy Scouts of America has ordered groups across the nation to split from schools by year’s end. Valley Scout officials have set Aug. 3 as the deadline here.
The decision will affect dozens of Valley Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs and their roughly 2,300 members. Scout officials said they don’t know how many of about 2.8 million Scouts nationwide are affected.
Scout officials made the move because they anticipate the ACLU would file lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of having government entities sponsor an organization that makes boys swear allegiance to God.
The ACLU has filed such a suit against Chicago schools, the Pentagon and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The suits didn’t harm the Boy Scouts directly but could hurt schools, said Gregg Shields, the national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America in Irving, Texas.
"That would just sap thousands or millions of dollars from schools that are already financially strapped to do their job of educating students," Shields said. "We don’t want that to happen."
The ACLU of Illinois sued Chicago schools in 1999 for chartering the Scouts, though the Scouts satisfied the civil liberties group last year by dropping schools in favor of private charters, said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois.
"You have to swear an allegiance or an oath to God," Yohnka said. "It is simply not constitutional for a government entity to sponsor an activity in which one of the requirements is a religious test."
The change is a historic one for the Scouts, who have always relied on schools to hold some of the charter documents required for each unit to exist. The charter requires little of school officials. They generally sign chartering paperwork and pledge to help identify local leaders for Scout units.
Most Valley Scouts are chartered through private groups, such as churches, charter schools or civic groups. The minority of school-chartered units will need to find similar groups. They can continue to meet on school grounds, however, just as any nonprofit group can.
That should make for a seamless transition, Shields said. The real burden will fall on Scout officials and parent volunteers who will have to find a new charter organization.
"I don’t think it will be that much of a challenge," said Jim Dolberg, director of field service for the Grand Canyon Council in Arizona. "We have a good base of community support."
The situation nonetheless frustrates the Scouts, who complain of a "relentless" legal assault on the organization. There have been at least 14 lawsuits since 1981, Shields said.
The ACLU doesn’t anticipate further legal action, Yohnka said.
"Our view is this is a good resolution," Yohnka said. "I think that it reflects an appropriate reading of constitutional law and constitutional principles."