The Price of Liberty

Thomas Jefferson once warned that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Two hundred and twenty years later, a Boy Scout troop is finding out just how right Jefferson was. Last January the National Capital Area of the Boy Scouts went to the Smithsonian Institution with a request: They wanted to use an auditorium at the National Zoo for a Court of Honor ceremony. The Scouts have used the Smithsonian’s facilities many times in the past, and they expected their latest request to be routinely approved. But they hadn’t figured on how aggressive the doyens of political correctness have become lately. The Boys Scouts, you see, require that its members believe in God. This was too much for Robert Hoage, head of the Smithsonian public affairs office. Hoage told the Boy Scouts that the museum’s policy prohibited it from co-sponsoring events with any group that, as Hoage put it, "exercises bias on the basis of religious beliefs." Besides, Hoage wrote, the Boy Scouts did not "reflect one of the many areas of the Smithsonian’s interest." Do you mean to tell me an organization committed to conservation and environmental education was "not relevant" at the National Zoo? After telling the Scouts to drop dead, Smithsonian staffers considered the matter closed. And for several months, it was. But then Scouting official Anthony Quinn decided to fight back. Last month, Quinn brought the Case of the Smithsonian Snub to the attention of the conservative Washington weekly Human Events which investigated and published two stories about the controversy. The articles caught the attention of Senator Spencer Abraham of Michigan. Abraham circulated a letter to his colleagues expressing outrage at the Smithsonian’s treatment of the Boy Scouts. "I find it deeply disturbing," Abraham wrote, "that the Boy Scouts… should be denied access to a federally supported institution because it exercises its constitutional right to free exercise of religion." That’s when the Smithsonian started to squirm. When the Smithsonian Board of Regents met a few days later, Secretary Heyman came under stiff criticism—especially by regent member and Tennessee Senator Bill Frist. The swift result was a letter by Smithsonian Secretary Michael Heyman, apologizing to the Boy Scouts for what he called an "unfortunate decision" that was "in error." Heyman acknowledged that Smithsonian’s special-events policy "clearly allows the sponsorship of events by all groups, including religious groups." The story ends well, but the Smithsonian Snub is a cautionary tale about how easily Christians can be shunted out of every area of life—unless somebody squawks, as, in this case, the Boy Scouts did. It’s part of the process of the secularization of American life—and it’s going on under our noses all the time, sometimes quietly, sometimes outrageously. In this case, the federal government went so far as to put on its enemies list a group of Boy Scouts. They tried to turn them into a group of second-class citizens who couldn’t use the facilities their own taxes had paid for. When it comes to our First Amendment rights, you and I need to be ever vigilant. Even if—as the Boy Scouts did—we have to take on the doyens of political correctness.


Chuck Colson


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