San Tan Mountain Regional Park is one of the East Valley's greatest natural treasures, but unfortunately tight county budgets have slowed the important process of protecting and improving the park land to a snail's pace.
So it might be presumed that a proposal by the Boy Scouts of America to improve and oversee a portion of San Tan Park for use by a number of youth groups would be universally cheered.
But no — it has gotten bogged down in a dispute over whether the proposed lease arrangement would violate the constitutional separation of church and state. That seems a tad extreme. What's next: frisking visitors to public parks for Bibles and crucifixes?
Public parks traditionally have been open to everyone who obeys the laws of the land. That goes for political and religious groups of all stripes, who've held countless retreats, picnics, rallies and camp-outs in public parks throughout this nation's history. Many have paid fees for use of the public facilities, including rental charges to reserve picnic or camping areas.
In light of that long history of public-private cooperation regarding the use of public lands, it seems perfectly reasonable to allow the Boy Scouts to lease a portion of the vast San Tan Park for its own and other youth groups' use. It's not as if the Scouts intend to monopolize the entire park; we're talking a relatively small sliver of park land that might get minimal protection and use otherwise.
As the Tribune's J. Craig Anderson has reported, the Scouts' proposal is to develop campgrounds that would be available for use by a number of East Valley youth groups, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Campfire Boys and Girls, Friendly House, Girl Scouts and Special Olympics.
Opponents of the proposal point to a federal court ruling in California that voided a Boy Scouts lease of public park land on grounds it violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a lesbian couple and an agnostic couple who cited Scout policies promoting reverence and prohibiting gays.
In light of higher court rulings that allow private and religious groups to use public facilities, including schools, it's hard to believe the California ruling will stand. If we as a nation and a community are to truly embrace diversity, we need to respect differences — be they religious, political or ethnic.
One should not have to agree with every Boy Scout policy to recognize the organization's proposal to help East Valley youth enjoy the great outdoors is a good one and deserves the backing of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.