Nancy & Remy Powell
(Finally) Prevail
in Scout Recruiting Struggle
by Cliff Walker

December 14, 2001

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Ellen Rosenblum ruled that Portland Schools illegally discriminated against atheist students by allowing the Boy Scouts to recruit during school hours, and state officials are wrong to allow the practice to continue. Plaintiff Nancy Powell said, "Rosenblum did all but turn [Portland Public Schools Superintendent Stan Bunn] over her knee."

Remy PowellThis case, which has dragged on for over four years, has featured some of the most pathetic manipulations on the part of whiny, greedy promoters of religion that we have seen. In other words, in a field that is already replete with this kind of behavior, this case has brought out some of the worst we have ever seen. In the beginning, reporter after commentator after news anchor insisted that the Powell family sought to prevent scouts from renting school property after hours. You'd contact them and straighten them out on this matter, thinking that perhaps they finally caught on to the fact that the scouts are recruiting during class time, and that's what Powell wants stopped. Then, next time the story came up, Powell was said to be trying to keep the scouts off school grounds after hours.

Ms. Powell quickly realized that she'd have to become intimately involved in the PTA and other school-related activities just to insure that her kids would be safe and would get a fair shake at what school has to offer. This sideline, at one point, seemed like a full-time job -- plus all the other responsibilities of being a Mom, plus trying to get a fledgling Atheist Community Center off the ground despite numerous controversies there. At one point, a group was picketing the Powell home. Later, Remington, the son involved in the case, was seriously injured after being struck by a vehicle.

But the saddest part was when the Powells (and others) would present to the various authorities (and even one previous court) ream after ream of documentation showing that the schools do not allow discrimination and do not allow groups that discriminate to have access to students, and also showing that the scouts not only discriminate, not only are proud of their practice, but have waged a long-term battle to retain their right, as a private group, to discriminate. Each time, it looked like anybody in their right mind could see the situation -- but no. Time after time after time, the most inexplicable situations came down. Despite several inches of documents, they'd say that there is "insubstantial evidence of discrimination based on religion" (Superintendent Bunn, in his most recent and most important decision).

But Judge Rosenblum disagrees: "It was an abuse of discretion for [Bunn] to find insubstantial evidence of discrimination based on religion" -- this after watching a video of a Scouting recruiter working on elementary students in several school cafeterias. Notwithstanding, Rosenblum does not appear to have been persuaded by this video: "The evidence of discrimination is sufficient and it was sufficient before today." This points strongly toward the likelihood that the Judge thinks the Scouting pundits had been "playing footsies" with the school administration. In the penultimate paragraph of the article in today's Oregonian, the "bottom line" of the cost-saving effectiveness of exploiting the school system comes out:

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Boy Scout leaders say it is essential for them to be able to recruit new members at school because it is the most complete, most effective, and least expensive way to get the word out.

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Although both sides agreed that Remington could not join because he is an atheist, Bunn's attorney argued that it was Ms. Powell who caused her son grief by telling him he could not join. Bunn asked Remy Powell if they had tried to join, and he said no. Nobody seems to have asked why they did not try to join, only whether they tried. One could presume that one motive would be out of wholesome respect for the Scouts' policy barring atheists (regardless of what we think about it, that's their policy). A sense of principle in not wanting to support or endorse an organization that would discriminate seems like a reasonable reason to refrain from trying -- once this discrimination is made known.

But an infinitely more crucial reason not to try to join would be Ms. Powell's wanting to protect her son from even being exposed to the thinking that goes on in the Boy Scouts movement -- much less being taught, in an intimate one-on-one setting, the "values" advocated in the Boy Scouts.

As Ms. Powell stated on the Tom Leykis show several years ago,

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So now, here I am explaining to my son, who is now sobbing and tears are running down his face, that no, Son, you cannot join, and it doesn't matter what the school official said because the Boy Scouts will not accept our kind. And that's a really terrible thing to have to explain; it was a life lesson I had hoped he would be much older before he would learn.

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We commend the Powell family for their tremendous sacrifice during these past four-and-one-half years. We also reiterate our previous prediction that Remington Powell shows signs of eventually becoming one of the more important leaders in the atheist communities' struggle for Liberty and dignity.

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Complete Coverage from Positive Atheism

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