What could be more quintessentially American than the song "God Bless America," a tune Irving Berlin wrote to boost the spirits of U.S. troops during World War II?
How about equal opportunity and a determination to welcome all people, no matter their race, creed or sexual orientation?
In the eyes of the God Bless America Fund, which holds the rights to the iconic song, those two concepts are inexorably linked. As Crain's New York Business reports, the fund that Berlin set up to handle royalties from the song withdrew its financial support of the Boy Scouts of America late last year because the group's New York chapter could not assure the charity that it was not discriminating against gay scouts and leaders. The Boy Scouts will vote at a national meeting Thursday on whether to lift the ban on gay scouts (the ban on gay scout leaders is not being proposed for reversal). If that indeed occurs, the God Bless America Fund will reconsider its decision, the group's spokesman told Crain's.
It's not chump change, either. Berlin generously decided not to take any royalties from the song, and in 1940 set up the God Bless America Fund to accept the song profits and direct the money to the nation's youth. Both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts have been the beneficiaries of the fund. Typically, the NYC Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of Greater New York have received a total of $100,000-$200,000 a year from the fund, an amount that shot up to $800,000 in the months after the September 11 attacks, Crain's reported.
This is a nation created with the idea that it would be a refuge – not just for those who wanted to avoid paying taxes to King George III, but for those who came later, from all over the world, seeking equal opportunity and acceptance no matter their background. It's an ideal that has been a work in progress – African-American men were not affirmed to have the right to vote until 1870, and women didn't get the same right until 1920. The melting pot still nears the boiling point even now, with debate raging over immigration.
But America is still a country that prides itself on its diversity. The nature of true American values will be put to a test on Thursday. And the protectors of the song that has become a conservative anthem have made it very clear what those values are.