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Source: American Civil Liberties Union Newsfeed. 1997-APR-10 "ACLU Challenges Chicago Scouting Programs That Require Belief in God"

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The ACLU Press Release

CHICAGO -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today filed suit in federal court challenging the City of Chicago's operation of scout troops affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America.

According to the suit filed in U.S. District Court, the City's policy excludes participants from City-operated scouting programs based on religious belief and sexual orientation. The suit also alleges that the City has adopted formal written policies that require youth members and adult volunteers in City scouting programs to make religious affirmations and participate in religious activities.

"Scouting makes many valuable contributions to the community," said Harvy Grossman, ACLU of Illinois Legal Director. "However, the City cannot put its stamp of approval on discrimination. We hope that the City will continue offering youth programs, but without these unnecessary and discriminatory >policies."

The suit, Winkler v. City of Chicago, was filed on behalf of Eugene Winkler and Kevin Poloncarz.

Winkler is a Methodist minister who objects to the City's endorsement of religion. Poloncarz is a gay agnostic who wished to volunteer as an adult leader in one of the City's scouting program. He objects to the exclusion of homosexuals from the City's scouting programs as well as the requirement that participants make a pledge that acknowledges God.

"The City of Chicago should not be in the business of discriminating," said Roger Leishman, Director of the ACLU of Illinois Gay & Lesbian Rights Project. "Regardless of the policies chosen by the Boy Scouts, the City cannot adopt discriminatory policies in City programs."

The City owns and operates over 25 Explorer Posts, Boy Scout Troops and Cub Packs. As a condition of receiving authority from the Boy Scouts to operate these programs, the City certifies that all adult volunteer leaders subscribe to the Boy Scouts' "Declaration of Religious Principle." Youth wishing to participate in city scouting programs must also sign a code that they believe in God and promise to be faithful to the Boy Scouts' religious duties. Members are also required to register with the Boy Scouts of America.

Although these scouting programs are affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, they are operated by the City. The City is solely responsible for selecting youth members and adult volunteer leaders. It is also solely responsible for the content of the program.

The ACLU is asking that the Court order the City to stop excluding participants from City-sponsored scouting programs based on religious beliefs and sexual orientation, and to stop including a religious element in the programs.

"The City of Chicago must embrace all of its citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs or sexual orientation," Grossman concluded.

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Background [by the OCRT]

Boy Scouts of America is looked upon by many people as a character building group open to all boys of good character. However, it is in actuality a private organization that promotes the Judeo-Christian faiths. In some areas of North America, the Boy Scouts exclude as members youth who follow Hindu, Neopagan and Unitarian faiths. We also suspect that they exclude Buddhists, because of their atheistic beliefs. There appears to be no national policy on religious exclusion. The local "scouting councils" appear to establish policy in this area.

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