City Deserves Praise for Anti-Bias Stance : Laguna Beach Is Right to Prohibit Scout-Sponsored Program From Excluding Gays

Laguna Beach officials have acted wisely in telling the Boy Scouts of America that the Police Explorer program in the city will not be allowed to discriminate against gays.

The Boy Scout-sponsored program has been a part of Laguna Beach for 20 years. It takes young men and women aged 14 to 21 who are interested in law enforcement careers and gives them a taste of what's in store. Members help with traffic control, search and rescue activities, and security at special events.

The program has worked well in the city and a number of its graduates have joined the city's police force.

But the Boy Scouts of America bans avowed homosexuals as members or leaders. Group officials said Scouts' parents support the policy and the Explorer program will not continue if Laguna Beach violates the group's rules.

The organization is private and says it has so far weathered all court challenges to its membership qualifications. The Laguna Beach Police Department, of course, is public and cannot discriminate.

Laguna Beach is a city with a large gay population. It is also the only city in Orange County with a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Thus the city action should be popular with many residents; it has already won plaudits from some City Council members.

But even those applauding the city say they hope there is some way to retain the Police Explorer program. Robert F. Gentry, a gay councilman who was a Boy Scout, called the Explorer program "excellent" and said he hoped it would remain.

Police Chief Neil J. Purcell Jr. said he resents what he sees as the Boy Scouts dictating to him whom he can appoint as a police adviser to the program and whom he can accept into the program based solely on sexual orientation.

The Explorer program has only a loose connection to the Boy Scouts. A member does not have to be a Scout, uniform colors are up to the police rather than the Scouts, and there are no merit badges.

Purcell likes the training it gives potential recruits, especially the mini-academy that teaches thing like searches and arrest techniques. The chief says it would cost too much for insurance and other needs for the city to try to re-create the program on its own.

Laguna Beach should not force the issue, because it does not want to lose the program. But if the city finds itself with openly gay members and the Scouts do force it, the city will have to stand on principle.

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