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Austin Cline

Supreme Court Denies Boy Scouts' Appeal: No Government Support for Discrimination

By October 20, 2006

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Boy Scouts Fight for Discrimination, Bigotry Against Atheists, Gays
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Library of Congress
For some time now, the Sea Scouts in Berkeley, California, have been fighting the fact that the city has stopped giving them special privileges. According to the city, they can't have free use of a public marina because they are part of the discriminatory Boy Scouts of America. The Sea Scouts contend that their discriminatory and bigoted policies shouldn't matter.

Why shouldn't they matter? There's no good argument for that. Some claim that the discrimination against gays and atheists is a positive public good, but that simply reveals the moral depravity of the speaker. Some claim that discrimination should be irrelevant and that being a non-profit group is the only relevant factor, but that makes no sense. Why should public government support an organization that discriminates against some of the public?

The Sea Scouts have lost at most levels of the judiciary. Now, the Supreme Court has refused to hear their case, which means that their loss at the California Supreme Court — a unanimous ruling, by the way — stands.

In 2000, the court ruled that the Scouts have the right to ban openly homosexual scout leaders, a decision that rested on First Amendment rights. “The Boy Scouts asserts that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values it seeks to instill,” then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court in a 5-4 decision.

Even so, the California Supreme Court said in March that local governments are under no obligation to extend benefits to organizations that discriminate.

Berkeley, home of free speech protests since the 1960s, adopted a nondiscrimination policy on the use of its marina in 1997 and revoked the Sea Scouts' subsidy a year later.

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has refused an appeal in such a case. Two years ago, they also refused to hear an appeal from Boy Scouts in Connecticut who objected to being dropped form the list of charities which receive donations directly from state employees' payroll. There, too, government officials argued that they have a right and an obligation to not give the same benefits and privileges to groups that discriminate against some citizens.

This is the price that the Boy Scouts have to pay for winning the right to discriminate against gays, atheists, and anyone else they might wish to in the future. As a private organization, they can't be forced to accept all applicants. As a private group, though, they are not automatically entitled to government benefits, support, and endorsement. The state not only has a right to refuse to support discriminatory groups, but they in fact have an obligation to do so because they have an obligation to defend and support the equality of all citizens.


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