Sunday, October 12, 2008

HUD permits funding of Boy Scouts

The Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernment Relations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Sheila M. Greenwood, in a recent letter to Representative Barney Frank wrote that no action would be taken at this time to stop a $940,500 HUD grant to the Greater Alaska Council (GAC) of Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for a high-adventure camp near Blair Lake, north of Talkeetna. The federal grant would help pay for design and construction of some initial facilities, including a generator building, warehouse and administrative office. How does HUD justify the grant?

Sheila Greenwood said that the GAC promised that "the facility would be made available to both scouting and other organizations on a first come - first served basis, and with no discriminatory fees imposed on these users of the facility." Those other organizations don't own and operate the facility nor are those other organizations receiving the HUD grant. As Sheila Greenwood acknowledged in her letter, "the organization [BSA] does not accept atheists and agnostics as members or adult leaders." What does the law actually say about this?

24 C.F.R. § 6.4 Discrimination prohibited.Title 24 - Housing and Urban Development Part 6 - Nondiscrimination in programs and activities receiving assistance under title 1 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 Subpart A General Provisions states: "Section 109 requires that no person in the United States shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity funded in whole or in part with Federal financial assistance, on the grounds of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex." How do the provisions of this regulation compare with the facts in this case?

It is the GAC, not the camping facility, that is receiving the HUD funds. The GAC will own and operate this government subsidized camping facility. This appears to be a tangible benefit targeted primarily for the GAC that favors the GAC theist only Scouting program over competing programs. Furthermore, the administrative office building is probably going to be staffed exclusively by the GAC. The other organizations will probably not be permitted to utilize the available federally funded but GAC owned office space on a first come - first served basis.

Apparently, it is the GAC that will determine the rules and procedures for reserving and using its government subsidized camp and that will decide who reserved its government subsidized camp first. The BSA organization, as one of the competing consumers of its government subsidized camping facilities, has a self-interest in the outcome of its own decisions. Because the GAC runs a theist only camping related program this results in a glaring conflict of interest with the anti-discrimination provisions of the federal appropriations regulations. The GAC's ill-defined and self-conflicted first come - first served promise should not be considered sufficient to qualify as compliance with the law.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Congress raises money for theist only organization.

The Equal Protection and/or Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment should prohibit federal funding directed to particular private organization sponsored programs that restrict participation based on religious belief for hiring, volunteer opportunities, and membership. The Bush administration has made a sustained effort to chip away at these nondiscrimination protections with respect to hiring and volunteering for its Faith Based Initiative and, even worse, by permitting the government funds to be intermingled with the sectarian organizations' general purpose funds. Nevertheless, even the Bush administration has respected in word, if not 100% in deeds, the long standing consensus that targeted federally funded programs (as opposed to untargeted funding via vouchers), including the FBI funded programs, cannot refuse to serve a citizen on the basis of that citizen's beliefs concerning religious claims, included beliefs that are in disagreement and dissent from claims made by various competing religions and by various religious believers.

Yet the "Boy Scouts of America Centennial Commemorative Coin Act" (H.R. 5872) was fast-tracked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for a floor vote, and passed by unanimous consent on Saturday, September 27, 2008.
The bill mandates that the U.S. Mint create and sell as many as 350,000 one dollar coins commemorating the Scouts' centennial in the year 2010. A ten dollar surcharge on each coin goes directly to the Boy Scouts of America, who will net as much as $3.5 million in the deal. The Boy Scouts exclude people they categorize as "atheists, agnostics, or avowed homosexuals" from participation in their membership only Scouting programs.

So what gives? Is there a principle in constitutional or federal law that exempts just Boy Scout programs, or just youth organization programs, from the otherwise generally recognized nondiscrimination legal standard for direct federal funding with respect to beliefs regarding religion? Apparently not, since no other program that so discriminates against any other competing belief regarding religion receives such direct federal funding. The legal principles that are claimed by Boy Scouts to justify the government funding are free expession and free exercise. But those are general principles that must exempt all government funding from nondiscrimination constraints or none. Does the Congress not know that Boy Scouts denies membership to atheists? Clearly they are aware of the Boy Scout policy because the Boy Scouts openly states its policy on its legal web site, lawsuits challenging the discrimination have been widely publicized, and many people have written to their Congress people about this dispute.

The only explanation for this disparity is that the target of the discrimination are atheist leaning agnostics and atheists. As far as Congress and the American public are concerned atheists are not citizens who are entitled to the full anti discrimination protections that they recognize as generally applicable to themselves and everyone else. Didn't George Washington once say "And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion"? There is one word that characterizes this, it is bigotry, pure and simple, whether it appears in the context of someone's misuse of an eighteenth century quote from George Washington to justify government supported discrimination against the non-religious or a vote of the Congress or the membership policy of Boy Scouts of America. As always, there is one proper response to bigotry: Fight against against it.