Scout’s dishonor


THE BOY SCOUTS WANTED this. They fought for it. So it’s more than a little ironic that they would complain now.

The Scouts went to court several years ago to defend their right, as a private, ecumenical organization, to keep out gays and people who don’t share their religious beliefs. (Atheists are not allowed in the organization, nor anyone else who does not profess a belief in God.) The Scouts’ right to free association, they argued then, allows them to set their own moral agenda rather than abide by laws that ban discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation. They won.

Yet the organization that wanted all the private leeway to deny entry to others also wants public tax dollars to ease its bottom line. It’s time for consistency to become one of those scouting virtues.


The California Supreme Court ruled last week that the city of Berkeley has the right to not give the Sea Scouts, a Boy Scouts affiliate, use of its marina -- a valuable freebie.

In fact, the city has a moral obligation to end the subsidy. As a private group, the Scouts have the right to deliberately keep out whoever they want. But government entities do not. (California law prohibits discriminating against gays.) Preferential public giveaways to such private groups put taxpayers in the untenable position of subsidizing those groups’ exclusionary policies.

That’s why the ACLU won in federal court in 2003 against the city of San Diego, which leases 18 acres of prime parkland to the Scouts for $1 a year. The city backed off, but the Scouts are appealing; a case involving Newport Beach is also pending. The organization has lost similar trials across the nation, and rightfully so.

It has been sad to watch an otherwise worthy organization veer down this path. The Scouts offer a welcoming place for a wide variety of boys, including low-income youth who might otherwise never get the chance to go camping or operate a boat or learn a thousand worthwhile things. But other groups manage to do the same without institutionalizing intolerance. The Girl Scouts, somehow, have avoided sinking into a moral abyss.

The Scouts are weighing an appeal in the Berkeley case. They should drop it.

They made the decision years ago to be free of public antidiscrimination constraints -- which means accepting that a growing number of taxpayers will object to their policies and refuse to single out for public generosity an organization that singles out minorities for scorn.