About one month after I wrote to Americans United for Seperation of Church and State regarding the apparent sponsorship by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources of a Scouting program unit, I received a reply from a staff attorney. It began with a thank you followed by an apology for the delay. The AU staff attorney then wrote: ".... Despite the use of the word "sponsor" on the Venturing Crew's website, I can find no evidence that there is any formal sponsorship relationship between the two organizations. Instead, it appears that the Venturing Crew participates in certain volunteering initiatives offered by DNR. It is not unconstitutional for a religious organization to volunteer time and effort with a government agency. If there is evidence that DNR provides funding to the Venturing Crew, please send it to me and I will review it. Otherwise, this does not look like a violation."
This reaction to my complaint from AU contrasts sharply with the FFRF reaction. FFRF reacted by writing a letter to the DNR requesting "any department records related to sponsorship of Venturing Crew 202." FFRF did not assume that there is no formal sponsorship absent proof one way or the other. Why is AU making the assumption there is no formal relationship given that the evidence suggests that there is such a formal relationship? The Crew 202 web site says that they have been sponsored by the DNR since 2000, when the unit first started, and the advisor of the unit has a DNR email address. And why is AU emphasizing funding? Even if the DNR gave no money to the unit, they are still operating a unit of a membership youth group that excludes atheists which by itself is illegal, as the FFRF staff attorney stated in his correspondence with me.
After calling more than a dozen times and getting an answering machine, I spoke to the registrar of the Baltimore Area Council of BSA. She confirmed that the chartered organization (a.k.a. the sponsoring organization) of Crew 202 is the DNR and the advisor with the DNR email address is also the Chartered Organization Representative. However, she refused to give me a copy of the charter agreement. I separately wrote to the AU and FFRF staff attorneys to alert them of this additional evidence. FFRF immediately responded. From AU I have so far received no response.
Although disappointed so far with AU, I cannot say I am surprised. AU and the ACLU are very good organizations whose membership probably consists largely of liberal theists. Many liberal theists have a strong commitment to civic equality and non-establishment of religion that becomes weak, or antagonistic, when it comes to atheists. A country where more than 4/5 of the population are religious believers is a very different country when many such believers are liberal from a country where few such believers are liberal. Liberal religious believers may object to my characterization of religion as inherently having a conservative orientation, but the fact is that the holy texts of the Abrahamic religions are often (very) conservative. And taking those ancient texts seriously in the 21st century is also conservative. So let's celebrate the liberal religious believers, with their creative hermeneutics, for their central role in making our country as tolerant and free as it is.
Yet these same liberal theists are also hypocrites when it comes to atheists. As with the ACLU, I will continue to wait for the AU to show me that I am wrong about liberal theists being civil rights hypocrites. I want to be wrong. I want the AU and the ACLU to tell the world that they favor civic equality for atheists and non-establishment of theism. They both have this opportunity here and if they take it then I will be happy to let you know on this blog.