ACLU Demands San Diego End Public Subsidy of Boy Scouts

August 4, 1999 12:00 am

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SAN DIEGO — The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties and the Tom Homann Law Association today demanded that the City of San Diego stop subsidizing the activities of the Boy Scouts as long as it persists in discriminating on the basis of religion and sexual orientation.

In a letter delivered this morning, the two organizations demanded that the City Council and Mayor terminate the City’s leases, under which the Boy Scouts operate their headquarters in city-owned Balboa Park for $1 per year and receive rent-free use of facilities on city-owned property on Fiesta Island.

After a long series of court battles, the California Supreme Court last year ruled that the Boy Scouts are a completely private religious organization, making them exempt from non-discrimination laws and permitting them to exclude boys and adult leaders who are agnostic, atheist or gay. The City of San Diego has stated that it would wait for the outcome of these court cases before deciding what to do about its subsidy of the Boy Scouts. With those cases complete, the organizations said the time has arrived for the City to address the Boy Scouts’ discrimination.

“The Boy Scouts can’t have it both ways,” said Linda Hills, Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “If they truly are a private religious organization, free to engage in any form of discrimination they choose, then they are not entitled to a government subsidy. Tax dollars should not be spent to promote intolerance.”

In their letter, the ACLU and THLA point out that both Boy Scout leases bar discrimination based on religion and provide that the Boy Scouts must abide by all laws and regulations of the City of San Diego. The City’s Human Dignity Ordinance bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The letter asks the City to enforce those contracts by requiring the Boy Scouts either to end their discrimination or to move their operations to facilities not owned by the City. The letter also details the City’s constitutional obligation to avoid preference for, or support of, religious activity.

The groups said that the Boy Scouts convinced the Supreme Court that instilling religious values was their primary organizational purpose and that the recreational aspect of scouting was secondary. Subsidizing discrimination against gays also puts the City in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

“The City cannot lease away people’s rights, including the rights of gays, and atheists to be free from discrimination and to enjoy the use of unique public assets like Balboa Park and Fiesta Island,” said M.E. Stephens, Co-President of the Tom Homann Law Association, San Diego’s gay, lesbian, and bisexual bar association. “It is time for City leaders to earn their merit badge in diversity by ending their sponsorship of the Boy Scouts.”

A number of government entities have recently cut their ties with the Boy Scouts because of their intolerance. In 1993, the San Diego Unified School District banned Boy Scout activities from its campuses. Last year, following the California court decision, the City of Berkeley terminated free berthing space at a city marina for two Boy Scout training ships. And recently, the City of Chicago ended its thirty-year sponsorship of the Boy Scouts rather than be forced to defend the Scouts’ exclusion of gays and atheists in court in response to a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

Both the City and County of San Diego Human Relations Commissions have condemned the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies and have called on the City to ask the Scouts to vacate parkland.

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