An Indiana legislator is under fire from his fellow Republicans for describing the Girl Scouts of America a “radicalized organization” and urging the state House not to sign a resolution recognizing the organization’s 100th anniversary.
In a letter written to fellow lawmakers, Rep. Bob Morris (R) writes that the Girl Scouts are “quickly becoming a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood,” and that its agenda “includes sexualizing young girls” and promoting “homosexual lifestyles.”
The letter went viral Tuesday after it was obtained and published by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
Representative Morris said his findings are based on conversations with “some well-informed constituents” and “a small amount of web-based research.” He cites a May 2009 article from World Net Daily, a conservative online news outlet, that states that Girl Scouts are not allowed to pray or sing Christmas carols.
He also criticizes an “education seminar” hosted by the organization, which asked girls to study 50 female role models. Of the fifty women listed, “only three have a briefly-mentioned religious background – all the rest are feminists, lesbians, or Communists,” he writes.
The letter pointed to the reignited culture wars playing out at varying intensities across Indiana and the nation. Indiana passed a law last May to block state-disbursed Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood, which is the nation's leading provider of abortions – though a federal judge later blocked the law. Meanwhile, staunch antiabortion advocate and religious conservative Rick Santorum has surged to the front of the Republican presidential race.
In Indiana, Republicans quickly moved to distance themselves from Morris.
House Speaker Brian Bosma (R) started Tuesday’s session by handing out Thin Mints – the scouting organization’s signature cookie brand – to his fellow lawmakers and later stating from the podium he had “purchased 278 cases of Girl Scout cookies in the last 48 hours.” Speaker Bosma also asked any former Girl Scouts in the assembly hall to stand and receive applause.
At the end of the session, he brushed off the controversy, saying “I’ve been to the carnival before, and you don’t walk into every sideshow tent.”
Bosma would not confirm if he met privately with Morris. No other Republican representative expressed support for the letter.
The Morris letter gave Indiana lawmakers in both parties a topic they could both rally around – a rare moment in a year of heated partisan debate over a right-to-work bill involving union contracts.
Senate Democratic leader Vi Simpson joined Bosma in handing out cookies, while House Democrats passed around photos of former President Ronald Reagan surrounded by Girl Scouts.
Deborah Hearn Smith, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of Central Indiana in Indianapolis, says the connection between Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood alleged by Morris is “inaccurate.”
“It does not reflect who we are and what we stand for,” Ms. Smith says. She adds that all children are welcome to join the organization regardless of sexual identity and that it does not have an agenda regarding human sexuality, contraception, or abortion rights.
“What he talked about, we would not talk about with girls,” she says.
The state’s chapter of Planned Parenthood also responded to the letter. Betty Cockrum, president and CEO, issued a statement saying the organization “currently has no formal partnership” with the Girl Scouts.
Ms. Cockrum frames the Morris letter as part of a national trend of “inflammatory and generally inaccurate claims” that “have been promoted primarily by anti-choice lawmakers seeking to place pressure on organizations to disassociate or distance themselves from” her organization.
Morris wrote in his letter he is pulling his two daughters out of the Girl Scouts and enrolling them in American Heritage Girls, a conservative organization based in Cincinnati that describes itself on its website as “the premier national character development organization for young women that encourages family involvement and embraces Christian Values.”
Morris refused to talk with reporters Tuesday at the statehouse in Indianapolis other than to say he was “focusing on the rest of the session.”
According to Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, there are about 90,000 Girl Scout members in the state and about 2.3 million nationwide. The national organization celebrates its 100th anniversary on March 12.