GENOA, ILL. -- The local United Way has suspended funding to the Boy Scouts of America after a member of its board complained that the scouts' oath of duty "to God and country" discriminates against atheists.
A recent letter from the Genoa-Kingston United Way board to the Boy Scouts said, "There is sufficient reason to question the Boy Scout's compliance with the United Way Charter, which prohibits support of agencies that discriminate on the basis of religion."
Joan Hendricks, a member of the charitable board who is also a member of American Atheists Inc., objected to the proposed funding.
Scout officials said they have appealed the suspension but that the loss of $1,250 from the Genoa-Kingston United Way would not curtail scouting activities in the area 50 miles west of Chicago.
Dennis Cook, spokesman for the local Scout council, said about $225,000 of the council's annual operating budget of $800,000 comes from United Way agencies, each of which makes its funding decisions. No others have threatened to withdraw grants, he said.
The council oversees 278 Boy Scout, Cub Scout and Explorers organizations in northern Illinois, including two Scout troops and a cub pack in Genoa and Kingston, he said.
"For the last 80 years our position has included a duty to God. Not now or at any time have we made an attempt to define God. We believe that is a private decision," he added.
In May, the United Way of Suburban Chicago denied a request from Robert I. Sherman, spokesman for American Atheists Inc., to stop funding the Scouts. That request came after Elliot Welsh, an agnostic from Hinsdale, Ill., filed a federal lawsuit alleging that his son was discriminated against when he was refused membership because the elder Welsh refused to profess a belief in God. A pretrial conference on the Welsh case is scheduled in Chicago Oct. 2.
Sherman said he and his son also were unable to join because of their beliefs. Scouts must pledge to support God and their country and adult leaders must sign a statement saying "no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God."