When Mrs. Dorothy Grover prepared the lease contract for Santa's Workshop, she was sure to specify the Boy Scouts of America as the inheritor of her building. For over four decades, Mrs. Grover crafted toys and good will for the children of Newport, Oregon as the organizer of the Christmas-themed attraction. Now, Mrs. Grover is too old to continue Santa's Workshop, so she asked that use of her building be transferred to the Scouts for the remainder of her five-year leasing period. She thought the Boy Scouts were a diverse, character-based, community-service youth organization, but she's now told that they are a church of bigots.
"It appears we're not able to lease it exclusively to the Boy Scouts," Newport Mayor Mark Jones announced last week as the city council unanimously voted to circumvent Mrs. Grover's contract. It was "a question of separation of church and state," explained City Manager Sam Sasaki.
On hearing of Mrs. Claus's will, the Grinch came down from his lair to announce to this beautiful town along the Pacific coast that the Santa's Workshop inheritance plan is terribly unconstitutional. According to Thomas Gravon of South Beach and his friends at the ACLU, the Scouts believe in God and the traditional family, and the City of Newport ought not to. Therefore, for Mrs. Grover to allow her privately operated workshop to transfer hands to the Boy Scouts of America will violate the separation of church and state.
How so, constitutionally? Good question. Mrs. Grover is a private individual; Santa's Workshop is a private endeavor. Construction of her workshop was financed and engineered by the local Lions Club, a private organization. And the Boy Scouts are a private organization too. Santa's Workshop is located in Frank V. Wade Memorial Park, which is city land available in part for lease to Santa's Workshop or its designee during the leasing period.
Because of the designated occupant of a privately leased building that sits on city parkland, says Mr. Gravon, the City of Newport is not only "liable for legal action, it places itself in the position of condoning this type of discrimination" against homosexuals and atheists.
By that definition of discrimination, the city has been discriminating against atheists all along, since I presume that like the Boy Scouts, Mrs. Grover believes in God. (I don't know this for sure, but statistics suggest that most folks believe in God, and atheists don't tend to be the biggest supporters of the Boy Scouts). So where was the ACLU for the many years that Santa's Workshop was in operation?
Perhaps the ACLU is simply jealous; maybe they're in the market for a new office in Oregon and Santa's Workshop seems just the place to prepare lawsuits that can be dropped down our chimneys or set beneath our trees. Instead, it seems the ACLU has a long-standing grudge against the Boy Scouts. Even pretty little Newport, Oregon isn't exempt from this endless quest of the ACLU to hunt down and root out the Boy Scouts from public lands.
Boy Scout troops were set to move into the new building until Mr. Gravon and the ACLU came to town. Scoutmaster Doyle Helmricks of Troop 62 told the Newport News-Times, "It's been our dream and hope for years, to find some place for Troop #62 and the (Cub Scout) pack ... to utilize for meetings, projects, storage, and other groups." The troop needs a permanent central location, said Helmricks, and Santa's Workshop is the perfect place.
But now Helmricks laments that Gravon and the ACLU are "holding the city hostage over this whole issue." It is a hostage situation indeed; the city council vote to deny the Boy Scouts use of Santa's Workshop was unanimous because they were told there was no other constitutional option. Behold the decay of civic virtue, the time when duty to God and moral straightness are considered so vile and filthy that a city has no choice but to concede to the one man's letter and the mere mention of the term "ACLU."
And that is all that prompted this preposterous, discriminatory decision by the Newport City Council last week. It's time for some serious pressure from the other side. Email City Manager Sam Sasaki at email@example.com . Remind him that the ACLU doesn't represent liberty, but the Boy Scouts do.
Hans Zeiger is a Seattle Sentinel columnist,