From 1791 until 1992, the United States Congress officially recognized a handful of organizations to profit from the official imprimatur of our federal authorities as being legitimate and sanctioned. While the central government does not oversee operations directly, the granting of a congressional charter serves to distinguish these few from the other reported 1,500,000 registered nonprofits operating in our nation.
The list is populated with all-familiar names, including the National Park Foundation, Federal Reserve Bank, National Academy of the Sciences, American Red Cross and youth-serving organizations like Girl Scouts, FFA and Boy Scouts. While the designation is considered by some to be largely honorific, each of the institutions was vetted at inception and remains endorsed by our national legislative body as unique, in the public interest and supporting appropriate and beneficial activities.
For many generations, these institutions would appropriately benefit from, as Radar O’Reilly from the long-running “MASH” television program might proclaim, the “official okey dokey.” They had withstood the test of time and proven themselves worthy of broad support. But today, as our general provision of traditional institutions is on the wane, these organizations are fighting on a new front. Schools and other government units have, in many cases, reduced these to the lowest common denominator. Scouts compete with every other group that demands attention from school children because the administrators fear those imagining grievance will initiate litigation if equal access is withheld. Have we charted a course to nowhere?
The harm of this misguided egalitarian impulse is born entirely by our children. Some schools have restricted or eliminated access at the precise time when the youngsters need the support. Improved grades. Reduced crime. Better mental health. And all at no cost to the taxpayer. Do congressional charters matter? For our kids, they should.