March 24, 1998 in Nation/World

Scouts Can Bar Atheists, Gays, State Court Rules California Decision Draw Hail Of Criticism

Bob Egelko Associated Press
 

The Boy Scouts are not a business covered by California’s anti-discrimination laws and can exclude homosexuals and boys who don’t believe in God, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday.

One ruling could allow the Scouts to expel 16-year-old twin brothers. They were barred by a Cub Scout den at 9 because they refused to profess a belief in God, were admitted by court order and recently qualified to become Eagle Scouts. A second ruling upheld the Scouts’ rejection of an 18-year-old Eagle Scout’s application to become a Scout leader after he disclosed his homosexuality in a newspaper interview.

The opinion by Chief Justice Ronald George stressed that the court was not judging the wisdom of the Scouts’ policies, and it carefully avoided the question of whether the Scouts, if covered by civil rights laws, would have the constitutional right to exclude gays and atheists.

“This is the sort of victory that the Boy Scouts should be ashamed of,” said Timothy Curran, 36, whose application to be an assistant scoutmaster in Contra Costa County in 1981 was the subject of one ruling.

Taylor Flynn, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer for Orange County teenagers Michael and William Randall, urged charities and governments to withdraw financial support from the Boy Scouts, following the lead of Levi Strauss, United Way of San Francisco and the city of Chicago.

Attorney Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, said the court had recognized that “the Boy Scouts can and should set the moral tone of their organization.”

Greg Shields, spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, also praised the ruling.

“For 88 years we’ve taught the moral values of the Scout oath and law to American boys,” he said. “Those who meet the standards of this membership organization are welcome to belong.”

The ruling contrasts with a decision March 2 by an appellate court in New Jersey that said the Boy Scouts and their local councils were “places of accommodation” with open membership and were covered by the state’s civil rights law. That ruling, in favor of a gay scoutmaster, was the first by any appellate court in the nation against the Scouts’ anti-gay policy.

The Boy Scouts say homosexuality conflicts with their concept of traditional moral values, embodied in a clause of the Scout oath in which members vow to be “morally straight.” Curran said he was astonished to hear that explanation, which was never mentioned during his years as a Scout.

The Randall twins joined the Cub Scouts at 7 and said their leader let them omit God from their oath. But they were rejected two years later when they tried to join a new Scout den after moving to Anaheim Hills. Since gaining admission through the courts, they have advanced through leadership positions and recently were recognized as Eagle Scouts by their troop, subject to national approval.


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