Oregon ACLU Says Supreme Court Boy Scout Decision Won't Affect Portland School District Case

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
June 28, 2000 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Oregon
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


PORTLAND, OR — The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said today that the Supreme Court decision upholding sexual orientation discrimination by the Boy Scouts will not affect a pending ACLU challenge of Boy Scout recruitment practices in public schools here.

Rather than focusing on discrimination against gays, the Portland case has centered on Boy Scout policies which bar atheists from membership, the ACLU said.

“Our legal challenge here in Portland was always based on the assumption that the Boy Scouts might have a constitutional right to engage in discrimination based on religion and sexual orientation,” said Oregon ACLU Executive Director David Fidanque. “That’s why our lawsuit was filed against the Portland Public School District instead of the Boy Scouts.”

Fidanque said the lawsuit it filed on behalf of Nancy Powell and her son, Remington, is based on the theory that school authorities cannot promote membership in an organization that requires its members to believe in God. The Oregon ACLU’s court challenge is currently pending in the Oregon Court of Appeals after Multnomah County Circuit Judge Joseph Ceniceros ruled in favor of the school district last fall.

Nancy Powell today echoed the ACLU’s reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“All I have ever asked is for the Portland Public Schools to stop telling my children that they are second-class citizens because our family is atheist,” she said. “The public schools are for all children. No school official should be promoting membership in an organization that excludes some children on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

“The Boy Scouts have now gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold their right to discriminate against gays,” she added. “How much more evidence do we need that the Boy Scouts believe that prejudice and discrimination is an integral part of their organization?”

In the meantime, Fidanque said, the ACLU has filed a new religious discrimination complaint with Portland school officials on behalf of the Powell family. The April school newsletter given to students at Harvey Scott elementary school invited “all boys” to attend a Cub Scout Open House at the local Baptist Church, despite the fact that not all boys can join.

Fidanque said that ACLU believes the School District’s actions violate an Oregon law that prohibits school districts from discriminating against students on the basis of religion. That complaint currently is being reviewed by Superintendent Ben Canada.

Fidanque noted that while the Boy Scouts have a constitutional right to limit their membership, government agencies in Oregon are prohibited by the state constitution from discriminating on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.

“The Boy Scouts can’t have it both ways,” he said. “If the Scouts continue to discriminate in their membership, they need to understand that they cannot expect public schools and other government agencies to endorse, sponsor or promote that discrimination.”

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release