Interior Reviews Boy Scout Ties

Friday, September 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — An Interior Department attempt to clarify its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America in light of the group's ban on gays has prompted sharp responses from Republicans, with the issue quickly surfacing in the presidential race.

The Interior Department acknowledged Thursday that it is reviewing its ties with the 90-year-old scouting organization because of an executive order by President Clinton in June that prohibits government participation in education activities with groups that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

The department's solicitor recently asked the Justice Department for advice on the matter and directed all Interior agencies to produce detailed information on their activities — everything from agency involvement in the national Scout jamboree to awarding of conservation merit badges.

The information is needed ``to determine which activities and programs ... as they relate to the Boy Scouts of America are consistent with'' the president's executive order on discrimination, Interior Solicitor John Leshy wrote.

The memo, when it surfaced, brought immediate response Thursday from Republicans, including GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush, who questioned whether the Interior Department was on the verge of throwing the Scouts off federal land, which for years many Scout troops have used for camping.

``I'm troubled by this memo appearing to suggest that the Clinton-Gore administration might sever the federal government's long-standing relationship with the Boy Scouts of America,'' Bush said in a statement.

The White House had little to say, but a spokesman for Vice President Al Gore's campaign sought to make clear Gore has no intention of ousting the Scouts.

``In a Gore administration Boy Scouts will be allowed to use federal land,'' Gore campaign spokesman Douglas Hattaway said.

Interior spokesman Jon Wright said the department has no intention of severing its ties with the Scouts, characterizing the Leshy memo as part of an attempt to get clarification from the Justice Department on how the president's June 23 executive order might affect the relationship.

``We have a long history and tradition with the Boy Scouts and we look forward to continuing that relationship,'' said Wright, adding that Scouts often help clean up campgrounds and trails and the department helps Scouts work on conservation merit badges.

Clinton issued his executive order on discrimination only five days before the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts were within their constitutional rights to ban homosexuals as scoutmasters.

Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference, accused the Clinton administration of ``investigating'' the Boy Scouts and of ``political pandering'' to gays.

Justice spokeswoman Kara Peterman said that while the department is continuing to develop general guidelines for the president's order, it has issued no advice to Interior or anyone else specifically involving the Boy Scouts.

``We haven't even looked at it,'' she said, adding that when Justice received the request, Interior was told to produce more information on what involvement the scouting organization has with them.

On Aug. 15, Leshy, the department's top legal officer, asked all agencies to provide details on their activities involving the Boy Scouts so that he could forward that information to Justice.

The memo sought information on Interior's involvement in next year's Boy Scout Jamboree as well as the department's involvement in ``all activities, events or programs'' involving the Scouts, any monetary or non-monetary assistance, sponsorship of any Scout troops or events, and involvement in any award, certificates, patches, merit badges or other forms of recognition of Scouts.

All of this has caught the Boy Scouts of America, incorporated in 1910 and chartered by Congress six years later, by surprise.

``I'm stumped,'' spokesman Gregg Shields said. He said as far as he knows the Boy Scouts have had little dealing with the federal government except ``we camp on some federal land. ... We get almost no financial support from the federal government.''


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