While the nation's eyes last month were focused on an election milestone in Broward County and its neighbors, the county's school board produced a cultural milestone. On Nov. 14, the board voted to expel the Boy Scouts from the county's schools: That is the first time Boy Scouts have been kicked out of school facilities because of their refusal to have homosexuals as Scout leaders.
The 60 Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops using the schools have been looking for new accommodations, but the decision itself did not come as a surprise to the South Florida Council of Boy Scouts, or to those waiting for the other shoe to drop after the Supreme Court ruled last June that the Boy Scouts could exclude homosexual scoutmasters. Since then, Boy Scouts across the country have faced funding cuts from groups lobbied by an organized and energized pro-gay movement. But while loss of funds from local governments, certain corporations, and local United Ways can be made up in funding from other sources, exclusion from schools changes the organization fundamentally. What many children for decades experienced as an after-school program will become less public and less accessible.
Jeffrie Herrmann, head of the South Florida Council of Boy Scouts, says that access to public schools is important for the Boy Scouts because "that's where the children are. Our program is all about attracting children to value-based education." The Boy Scouts say they will take this to the courts, charging viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment. The Broward school district barred the Boy Scouts because, in excluding gays, the group violates the school board's nondiscrimination policy-and Boy Scouts will face similar threats around the nation, particularly in metropolitan areas, where liberal school boards are more likely to go with the gay-rights agenda.
Along with losing meeting places, the Boy Scouts in south Florida are losing money: over $400,000 this year, perhaps triple that next year. This includes funds from the City of Fort Lauderdale, the Broward County United Way, and the Miami-Dade County Commission, which for the past eight years has contracted with the Boy Scouts to maintain Scouting programs in poor areas of Miami, where few children grow up with the guidance of fathers. Mr. Herrmann explained, "It's very expensive for us to do work in the inner city. We can't find parents to volunteer, so we have to hire people. Also, we usually have to buy uniforms for the kids and cover the cost of outings."
The battle is not over. On one side is SAVE DADE, a gay-rights group housed in a two-story American Legion Building. The group in 1998 succeeded in convincing the Miami-Dade County Commission to vote in favor of adding sexual orientation to the local nondiscrimination ordinance. Its head, Jorge Mursuli, is good at building personal relationships, and he proudly shows off a list of 135 Dade County clergymen who signed on in support of the sexual orientation provision in 1998. He told WORLD, "We got the Catholic Church to stay out of it. They agreed not to oppose us. It took a while, we spent a lot of time building a relationship with the Archdiocese. We came up with an exemption for churches and religious organizations."
On the other side are individuals such as Anthony Verdugo, chairman of the Dade County Christian Coalition, who is looking to put the county's sexual orientation clause to a vote in the next county-wide election. He recently had Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, as keynote speaker for a dinner; Mr. Reed talked about his childhood Cub Scout involvement in Miami and noted today's political lineup: "I want you to think about the fact that Al Gore can never again stand on a dais surrounded by Boy Scouts because politically he needed to go along with some of his constituency."
Eladio Jose Armesto, a long-time Democrat and President of the Dade Democratic League-an officially chartered Democratic club with 800 members, most of them Cuban-Americans-is also hoping to restore funding for the Boy Scouts. He said the organization recruits heavily among Cuban-Americans, and he doesn't mind that "probably 90 percent of [Miami-Dade funding] is spent in the black community," because the money "has a ripple effect through our community as a whole." The issue has turned him against his political party: "The Democratic Party in Florida is a bunch of political extremists. They don't believe in diversity. It's a charade. They just want minority lapdogs."