Congress's $3.5 million "bake sale" for the Boy Scouts
By Chris Rodda
Online Journal Guest Writer
May 20, 2008, 00:12
All right, it isn't actually a bake sale, but it might as
well be. On May 15, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5872, an act
"To require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration
of the centennial of the Boy Scouts of America, and for other purposes."
The other purposes? The sale of the coins by the Secretary of the Treasury,
with a surcharge on each coin sold to "be paid to the National Boy Scouts
of America Foundation." In other words, this is a congressionally mandated
fundraiser for the Boy Scouts.
With the act allowing for up to 350,000 of these coin to be
issued and fixing the surcharge at $10 per coin, the Boy Scouts could receive
as much as $3.5 million from their sale. Never before, in the long history of
U.S. government issued commemorative coins, has this benefit been granted to an
organization that promotes religion or discriminates based on religion.
What is a commemorative coin and how does the
A 1996 U.S. Mint report, titled "Commemorative Coins
Could Be More Profitable," described the issuance of commemorative coins
as follows: "Every commemorative coin program is authorized by an act of
Congress. Congress authorizes commemorative coins primarily as a means of
honoring certain events and individuals and raising funds for the coins�
sponsors. On occasion, the proceeds from commemorative coin sales are applied
to the national debt. Commemorative coins are legal tender but are purchased
and retained by collectors, rather than used as a circulating medium of
The first commemorative coin, authorized by Congress in
1892, was the Columbian Exposition silver half dollar, commemorating Columbus's
first voyage to the New World. These coins, priced at twice their face value,
did not sell well, and many of them ended up being put into circulation by the
banks that held them as collateral against unpaid loans taken out by the
Exposition. Over 50 other commemorative coin programs were authorized between
1892 and 1951, and for the first few decades they were all to recognize
anniversaries of major historical events or to raise money for legitimate
memorial projects. But, of course, any program where money is involved is
subject to abuse.
By the 1920s things were already getting out of control. At
that time, coins issued to fund a particular project were simply minted and
then sold by the government to the recipient organization, which would then
resell them for a profit, with the selling price set by the organization. This
led to a flood of coins commemorating events that were only of local rather
than national interest, organizations charging exorbitant prices for their
coins, and even instances of coin dealers fabricating anniversaries to obtain a
product to sell. In 1936, for example, a group of Ohio coin dealers formed the
"Cincinnati Music Center Commemorative Coin Association" and applied
to have a coin issued commemorating Cincinnati's "contribution to the art
of music for the past 50 years.� This coin was authorized by Congress despite
the fact that the Commission of Fine Arts found that nothing of musical
significance had occurred in Cincinnati in 1886 to make 1936 a 50th anniversary
of anything. In 1939, Congress passed legislation severely limiting
commemorative coins, and following the issue of the George Washington Carver -
Booker T. Washington half dollar, which was sold from 1951 to 1954, the program
was suspended for nearly three decades.
The program was revived in 1981 with the authorization of a
George Washington 250th Anniversary half-dollar to be issued in 1982, the
profits from which were applied to the national debt. By 1984, Congress was
once again authorizing coins to raise funds for private organizations, but new
legislation required that the coins be sold directly to the public by the U.S.
Mint, with a fixed surcharge to be paid to the recipient organization. The
minting of many of these coins resulted in a loss to the government, although
the sponsoring organizations always made a profit. The problem was that the
organization received its surcharge beginning with the very first coin sold,
before the mint had recovered its set-up and other costs. If a coin sold so
poorly that its sales didn't cover these costs, it was the government that took
the hit. On the 1994 World Cup Tournament coins, for example, the government
lost over $4 million, while the sponsor received over $9 million. Current law
requires that the mint ensure that it will not lose any money before
transferring any surcharges to the recipient organization, and limits
commemorative coin programs to two per year.
The unconstitutionality of issuing a commemorative
coin for the Boy Scouts
This should be obvious, but apparently it isn't to the
overwhelming majority in our House of Representatives, who just passed H.R.
5872 by a vote of 403 to 8. (Kudos to Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Barney Frank
(D-MA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim
McDermott (D-WA), Pete Stark (D-CA), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) -- the eight who
While much has been written about the disputes and court
cases resulting from establishment clause issues raised by government support
of the Boy Scouts, the organization's actual statements and policies are
usually only vaguely described or briefly quoted. To leave no doubt as to why
Congress, without question, should be prohibited from passing legislation to
raise money for this organization, here are some of the statements and policies
from official Boy Scout publications and websites.
First, there's the "Declaration of Religious
Principle," found in the organization's bylaws. This declaration must be
subscribed to by every member of the Boy Scouts, from the youngest Scout to the
adult leaders, volunteers, and employees.
Declaration of Religious Principle:
�The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow
into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the
first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, �On my honor I
will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.�
The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the
grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best
type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing
members. No matter what the religious faith of the members may be, this
fundamental need of good citizenship should be kept before them. The Boy Scouts
of America, therefore, recognizes the religious element in the training of the
member, but it is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward that religious
training. Its policy is that the home and the organization or group with which
the member is connected shall give definite attention to religious life.�
Then there are the policies governing volunteers and
Youth and Adult Volunteers:
"Boy Scouts of America believes that no member can grow
into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God.
Accordingly, youth members and adult volunteer leaders of Boy Scouts of America
obligate themselves to do their duty to God and be reverent as embodied in the
Scout Oath and the Scout Law. Leaders also must subscribe to the Declaration of
Religious Principle. Because of its views concerning the duty to God, Boy
Scouts of America believes that an atheist or agnostic is not an appropriate
role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys. Because of Scouting�s
methods and beliefs, Scouting does not accept atheists and agnostics as members
or adult volunteer leaders."
"With respect to positions limited to professional
Scouters or, because of their close relationship to the mission of Scouting,
positions limited to registered members of the Boy Scouts of America,
acceptance of the Declaration of Religious Principle, the Scout Oath, and the
Scout Law is required. Accordingly, in the exercise of their constitutional
right to bring the values of Scouting to youth members, the Boy Scouts of
America will not employ atheists, agnostics, known or avowed homosexuals, or
others as professional Scouters or in other capacities in which such employment
would tend to interfere with the mission of reinforcing the values of the Scout
Oath and the Scout Law in young people."
And, according to BSALegal.org,
a website "created on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America to inform the
public about the legal issues that confront Scouting," religious beliefs
and activities are required for every level of advancement from Cub Scouts
through Eagle Scouts.
"All levels of advancement in the Scouting program have
requirements recognizing 'duty to God':
Bobcat Cub Scout
"A boy is required to promise to do his best to do his 'duty to God,'
which means 'Put God first. Do what you know God wants you to do.'
Wolf Cub Scout
"A boy is required to '[t]alk with your folks about what they believe is
their duty to God,' '[g]ive some ideas on how you can practice or demonstrate
your religious beliefs,' and '[f]ind out how you can help your church,
synagogue, or religious fellowship.'
Bear Cub Scout
"A boy is required to '[p]ractice your religion as you are taught in your
home, church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious community' or '[e]arn the
religious emblem of your faith.'
"A boy is required to either '[e]arn the religious emblem of your faith'
or do two of the following:
�'Attend the church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious
organization of your choice, talk with your religious leader about your
beliefs, and tell your family and Webelos den leader about what you learned.
�'Tell how your religious beliefs fit in with the Scout Oath
and Scout Law, Discuss this with your family and Webelos den leader: What
character-building traits do your beliefs and the Scout Oath and Scout Law have
�'With your religious leader, discuss and write down two
things you think will help you draw nearer to God. Do these things.
�'Pray to God or meditate reverently each day as taught by
your family, and by your church, synagogue, or religious group. Do this for at
least one month.
�'Under the direction of your religious leader, do an act of
service for someone else. Talk about your service with your family and Webelos
den leader. Tell them how it made you feel'; or
�'List at least two ways you believe you have lived
according to your religious beliefs."
First Class Boy Scout
"A boy is required to 'ead your patrol in saying grace at the meals. .
. . '
Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle Boy Scouts
"A boy is required to '[d]emonstrate Scout spirit by living the Scout Oath
. . . and Scout Law in your everyday life.'"
On the FAQ page of BSALegal.org, the discriminatory policies
of the Boy Scouts are defended through questions and answers like the
"Q. What allows the Boy Scouts of America to exclude
atheists and agnostics from membership?
"A. The Boy Scouts of America is a private membership
group. As with any private organization, Boy Scouts� retains the constitutional
right to establish and maintain standards for membership. Anyone who supports
the values of Scouting and meets these standards is welcome to join the
This is absolutely correct. A private organization can have
whatever beliefs and religious requirements it chooses to. That's their
constitutional right. But Congress can absolutely not financially aid the Boy
Scouts in the promotion of their beliefs and enforcement of their religious
requirements by legislating a fundraiser for them!
Courtesy of The Public Record.
Rodda is the senior research director for the nonprofit government watchdog
organization The Military
Religious Freedom Foundation, and author of the book "Liars For
Jesus". She can be reached email@example.com
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