The U.S. military has been supporting the event since the 1930s.
WASHINGTON -- The Boy Scouts' Jamboree, held every four years, is an epic event for bucolic Caroline County, Va.
Held at Fort A.P. Hill for 25 years, the event more than triples the county's population, bringing 40,000 Scouts, leaders and staff together for 10 days of sports, conservation activities and the construction of a tent city so elaborate that military officials compare it to a refugee camp. County officials estimate that when the latest jamboree begins a week from Monday, 300,000 additional people will stream into the area.
The jamboree is also an important event for the U.S. military, which has been supporting it since the 1930s with contractors, 1,500 troops and $2 million a year in Defense Department funding. However, that relationship is coming under scrutiny.
A federal judge ruled late last month that the Pentagon funding is unconstitutional because the Boy Scouts are a religious organization, requiring Scouts to affirm a belief in God. The case was initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Scouts and their advocates -- including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis, R-Va., whose district includes Fort A.P. Hill -- are livid, saying the jamboree provides a unique training opportunity for troops.
Even as the government plans its appeal and Davis pushes legislation to try to ensure that Pentagon funding for the jamboree continues, experts say the ruling by Judge Blanche Manning is part of an escalating battle over government funding of religious organizations.
A unique partnership
The Boy Scouts declined to comment on whether the group would be able to continue the $26 million event without government support. According to the ACLU, the Pentagon spends $15,000 on pediatric medical supplies, $10,000 for mementos and $5,000 on cookie dough for the event.
All sides agree that the relationship between the Scouts and the U.S. military is a long-standing, unusual one. The military has been supporting the jamboree since 1937, and Congress eventually made financial support of the event part of federal law. Davis and Frist believe a new measure could be stronger and unchallengeable.
During the jamborees, thousands of U.S. troops set up and take down 17,000 tents and provide security, communications support and medical services, among other things.
The relationship was called into question in 1999, when a group of Chicago taxpayers -- including a Methodist minister and a rabbi -- sued several government agencies for their financial support of the Boy Scouts. The ACLU represented the group.
Named in the suit, along with the Pentagon, were the Chicago Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, because some schools and housing projects were sponsors of Scout troops. A settlement was reached on government sponsorship -- which included military bases around the world as well -- and the practice was stopped, but the part of the suit that concerns jamboree funding remains in the courts.