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Divided Way: Texas United Way Cuts off Scouts
by Hans Zieger
18 November 2003United Way

United Way of Austin has cut off funding for the Boy Scouts, joining nearly 70 other United Way chapters across the country.


Next year, the Capitol Area Council of the Boy Scouts in Austin, Texas will lose nearly $160,000 in allocated funding from the United Way Capitol Area. On Thursday, November 13, the Boy Scouts and the United Way parted ways due to differences in the two groups' non-discrimination policies.

In what was advertised as an amicable separation, the Austin United Way concluded two years of Inclusiveness Committee meetings and focus groups by announcing that the Boy Scouts of America's policies banning homosexual troop leaders precludes it from being funded.

"We are one community, and we raise money from the entire community," Austin United Way president Clarke Heidrick said. "We want to serve the entire community." Thus, the Austin United Way has proceeded to cut off funding to its community's most valuable and respected youth organization.

The Boy Scouts are not only important to Austin, Texas -- the Boy Scouts have always been a vital partner with the United Way. In 1918, the Boy Scouts of America was one of a dozen organizations that joined forces to found the American Association for Community Organizations, the forerunner to the United Way. For the past 75 years, the United Way and the Boy Scouts have been close-working partners.

The Boy Scouts have come to rely heavily on funding from the United Way. Since millions of American employers transfer employee charitable contributions to the United Way, Boy Scouts of America has remained a popular recipient for donor funds. In 1996, United Way chapters around the country pitched in nearly $84 million for Boy Scouts programs like after-school activities, camps, and merit badge courses.

Yet today, in nearly 70 communities across the country, United Way chapters have excluded the Boy Scouts from their charity pools or are in the process of altering policies to deny money to the Scouts. In major cities like Austin where the Boy Scouts are especially indispensable to the character development of disadvantaged children and the overall quality of life, funding is at greatest risk.

Without United Way funding, the Austin Capitol Area Boy Scout Council will be forced to spend more time raising money from individual donors and less time focusing on character development. In a letter to supporters of Scouting, Austin Council Executive and CEO Thomas O. Varnell wrote that his administration is forced to increase its 2004 Friends of Scouting fundraising goals by 29 percent.

As political correctness wreaks its havoc on America's communities, more and more United Way chapters will be severing ties to the Boy Scouts. Americans who contribute to their local United Way should be curious about how the relationship between the United Way and the Boy Scouts affects their workplace paycheck deductions or charitable giving.

The United Way insists that its 1,400 chapters are "independent" and "separately incorporated," that it does not "dictate policy or funding decisions to local United Ways." However, recent United Way of America internal memos and letters suggest that the national headquarters of the United Way has taken an active, strategic role in building pressure against the Boy Scouts.
American Civil Rights Union president Robert Carleson launched the Scouting Legal Defense Fund (SLDF) in 2000 to ally with the Boy Scouts through legal action and public education. The SLDF website at www.defendscouting.com is the most comprehensive effort to expose United Way chapters that have cut off funding to the Scouts. When Carleson contacted United Ways last year to verify his information about specific United Way-Boy Scout relationships, national United Way president Brian Gallagher immediately assumed the defensive, warning Carleson to "reconsider your strategy and cease efforts to identify or label United Way organizations." 

Meanwhile, Gallagher and his national staff formulated what he identified in a memo to United Way local administrators around the nation as, "our initial strategy to deal with this." Gallagher ordered that United Ways "not comply with [SLDF's] request for information." Apparently there is a national "strategy" to "deal with" issues involving the Boy Scouts. 

Despite the fact that Carleson was merely seeking to maintain accuracy in reporting on local United Way chapters, Gallagher threatened "to take action to protect the interests of our members if SLDF published "misrepresentations" about local United Ways.
In a letter to the national Boy Scouts of America, Carleson warned of "discrimination against the Scouts by local and possibly the headquarters of the United Way. Their memo to their locals and their 'initial strategy' to put pressure on you demonstrates to us that United Way headquarters is part of the problem." 

As the United Way -- across the nation -- heightens its opposition to the Boy Scouts, Americans who give to charities should be vigilant. The United Way, not the Boy Scouts, should suffer the consequences of moral relativism.

Hans Zeiger is a Seattle Times columnist and conservative activist. He is president of the Scout Honor Coalition and a student at Hillsdale College in Michigan
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