Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who Gets to Be a Boy Scout? California's High Court Hears Cases This Week about about Excluding a Homosexual and Two Atheists from the Scouts

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Who Gets to Be a Boy Scout? California's High Court Hears Cases This Week about about Excluding a Homosexual and Two Atheists from the Scouts

Article excerpt

Two California Supreme Court cases hinge on whether the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a business or a private organization. But the outcome is likely to go beyond who can join the gatherings of kerchief-garbed boys in church basements.

The legal knot confronting the nation's largest youth group could have implications for community and fraternal organizations ranging from the Kiwanis to 4-H Clubs here and in other states.

At issue in the cases heard by California justices this week is whether the Boy Scouts can legally exclude homosexuals or atheists. If the youth group is ruled a business, it's subject to civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination based on religious belief and sexual preference. But if it is a private organization, it may have the right to set any standards for admission it chooses. In one case originating in 1991, twin 10-year-olds Michael and William Randall protested their expulsion from a Scouting organization in Orange County for refusing to take the Scout oath affirming the existence of God. Winning a preliminary injunction barring the BSA from expelling them until the case was settled, the twins are about to be considered for Eagle Scout badges, Scouting's highest rank. Scout lawyer George Davidson argued that the organization is merely upholding its clearly stated tenets. "There's God on the front cover, there's God on the back cover," said Mr. Davidson, holding up a Scout handbook to the justices. The other case originated in 1980 and concerns the exclusion of an Eagle Scout, Timothy Curran, from a troop in Berkeley California. Local Scoutmasters denied Curran a post as assistant scoutmaster because of a local newspaper article on gay teens indicating that Curran was homosexual. Both suits claim that the BSA's attempts to curb the youngsters' participation violate California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination by businesses. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jon Davidson argued that the BSA sells camping equipment, pays a full-time staff, and charges fees to its 5 million members. "Those factors point to it not being a private club," he said. …

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