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The Center for Inquiry, a New York-based nonprofit that promotes the separation of church and state, is urging a local school district to stop hosting Boy Scouts of America recruitment assemblies.

“We’re one of the biggest secular organizations in the country, with more than 50,000 members,” said Nicholas J. Little, the center’s legal director. “It’s important for the school district to hear from us.”

The Octorara Area School District, in Chester County, hosts BSA recruitment assemblies for elementary-school students, despite BSA’s policy of excluding LGBT adults and nontheist children and adults.

In a Jan. 12 letter, Little urged district officials to stop hosting the assemblies, saying the district “sends a clear message to atheist and agnostic citizens, as well as members of the LGBT community, that they are not full members of society, and that organizations cannot only exclude them but that such exclusionary organizations are supported by the government.”

Little said he hopes to resolve the dispute through dialogue with district officials.

“The Octorara school district is going above and beyond what is required by law, and what is reasonable,” Little told PGN. “There’s a very big difference between letting the BSA use some space after school and giving them preferential treatment during school hours, and making it seem like it’s a school activity.”

Even if the district doesn’t mandate attendance at the assembly, the issue still isn’t resolved, Little added.

“Even if the assembly is made voluntary, there’s a question as to how voluntary it really is,” he said. “There’s a lot of peer pressure that needs to be considered. It’s simply not appropriate to have this assembly during school hours and seemingly endorsed by the school.

Little said district superintendent Thomas L. Newcome hadn’t responded to the center’s letter.

“We’re hoping to hear from Dr. Newcome, and we’ll be following up shortly if we don’t receive any reply,” Little said.

Newcome had no comment for this story but in prior statements noted the BSA Chester County Council “has shown no discrimination in practice that anyone has brought forward.”  

“It has been our experience that the BSA troops in the Octorara community are open and welcoming to all children,” Newcome added.

Little challenged Newcome’s description of local BSA troops.

“It’s all well and good for the district to say local BSA troops are open and welcoming. But if BSA rules exclude all nontheists and all LGBT adults, that doesn’t sound open and welcoming to me.”

Little expressed hope that the dispute can be resolved without litigation.

“It would be best if this could be settled just by people talking. However, if the school board and Dr. Newcome aren’t willing to address the problem in good faith, then we will have to consider all available options.”

Freethought Society president Margaret Downey also expressed hope that the situation can be resolved without litigation. Her group also opposes the BSA assemblies.

“We do not want to sue the school, not now and hopefully never,” Downey told PGN. “School funds should be used to educate, not litigate. The goal is for Octorara to avoid any wrongdoing by being proactive in protecting students from any harm.”

From our media partner PGN