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Local Council Won't Cooperate With National BSA --
Votes Against Bigotry!

Gay rights, Atheist-Freethinker and other civil liberties groups came together in Philadelphia on Thursday to speak out against discriminatory policies of the Boy Scouts of America.

The BSA's national conference is meeting this weekend in the City of Brotherly Love. No sooner had officials from the Scouting hierarchy opened their meeting at the Marriott Hotel on Market Street, though, than they were greeted by picketers outside calling for reform in the organization's membership policies. The BSA currently refuses to allow homosexuals as members or Scouting leaders, and insists that those wishing to join swear a religious oath.

That has lead to a battery of lawsuits in the courts, and efforts to sever the long-standing link between government agencies and the Boy Scouts.

Rebellion is also spreading the ranks. Just in time for the BSA conference, the Cradle of Liberty Council -- the third largest in the nation -- voted to add "sexual orientation" to its policy of nondiscrimination. The Council serves 87,000 youths in the Philadelphia-metro area.

"We disagree with the national stance, and we're not comfortable with the stated national policy," CLC's Board Chairman, David H. Lipson Jr. told the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. "That's why we're working on a solution that works for everyone."

He added that a number of philanthropic groups including the Pew Charitable Trusts have reduced their annual contributions to the Boy Scouts, and that the national policy regarding homosexuals and nonbelievers has hurt fund raising efforts by local BSA troops.

The move by the Cradle of Liberty Council was prompted by meetings with community leaders where the discrimination issue was discussed. One participant was David L. Cohen, an executive with the Comcast communications group who was also chairman of the Philadelphia area United Way from 1998 to 2001.

"We were not prepared to allow our kids to be casualties on the battlefield of adults who should know better," Cohen told the Inquirer.

Press Conference Hits Discrimination

At the press conference organized by Scouting For All, representatives from different national and community-based groups called for an end to the BSA discrimination against gays and Atheists. Among the participants were Scott Cozza of Scouting For All; Margaret Downey of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia; Gregory Lattera, President of the Gay/Straight Alliance Club; Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists; Chris Hayes, Inclusive Scouting Representative; Fran Kirschner, President of the Philadelphia Chapter of PFLAG; Rev. Benjamin Maucere of the First Unitarian Church; Rita Addessa of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Daniel J. Holmes, Eagle Scout and Assistant Scoutmaster of a local BSA troop; and Peter Hance, Secular Humanists and Atheists of Lehigh Valley.

Later, nearly two-dozen picketers were in front of the Marriott Hotel to begin the weekend's round of protest demonstrations. Media was out in force, and comments by Greg Lattera were carried by local television stations and fed to national networks. Lattera, wearing his Life Scout uniform, talked about how seven years in the BSA program had improved his life, but said that he now faced expulsion from the organization "simply because I'm gay."

Mr. Cozza, also in uniform, told reporters that while the courts may consider the Boy Scouts of America to be a private organization immune from civil rights protections, "discrimination against gays and Atheists is still wrong."

Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists represented the organization, and echoed Mr. Cozza's statement for cameras. Also participating with the AA contingent were Bart Meltzer, National Field Operations Director, Pete Hance, Regional Director for Pennsylvania; and Janice Rael, Regional Director for South Jersey.

For further information:

Scouting for all -

Flash Line: Atheist scout says he'll fight decision to expel him from BSA, 10/30/02

Flash Line: School violated rights of Atheist student in permitting BSA recruitment, 12/15/01

Flash Line: As protest mount, legislation would protect federal ties to BSA, 10/8/00

Flash Line: Bill to cut Scouts' congressional charter introduced..., 7/22/00

Flash Line: California court: Boy Scouts can bar gays, Atheists, others, 3/24/98


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