ACLU Says Rent-Free Leases to Boy Scouts Violate California Constitution

January 16, 2001 12:00 am

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SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA–The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the ACLU sent letters today to local officials challenging the legality and fairness of offering the Boy Scouts of America “sweetheart deals” on rental of government lands, facilities and buildings.

“Our letters ask the county and the city of Atascadero to stop subsidizing discrimination by giving rent-free leases to the Boy Scouts,” said Martha Matthews, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “The Boy Scouts organization has abandoned the values it used to stand for — honesty, fairness, and respect for diversity — in favor of bias and exclusion.”

The national leadership of the Boy Scouts recently went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm their right to be a “private expressive association,” with discriminatory membership policies that exclude gay persons and religious non-believers.

The ACLU believes that government should not subsidize organizations that exclude some youth and families – those who are religious non-believers, gay or lesbian, and also those who do not want their children to participate in an organization that teaches religious intolerance and homophobia.

“It is unlawful for cities and counties to subsidize the Boy Scouts’ activities through rent-free leases of valuable public property,” said Matthews. “Such leases violate the California and federal constitutions’ guarantees of equal protection and freedom of religion, and would also be vulnerable to a taxpayer lawsuit for waste of public resources.”

Last year, the City of San Luis Obispo stopped giving the Boy Scouts free use of a public building after community protests.

“The most effective way for the County and the City to sever their ties with the Boy Scouts would be to enact local non-discrimination ordinances that cover sexual orientation,” said Matthews. “Both leases have clauses saying that the Boy Scouts must comply with all local laws or the leases can be immediately terminated.”

Last fall, the ACLU of San Diego sued the City of San Diego over a similar lease of public parkland to the Boy Scouts for one dollar per year. To read about this case, go to

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