- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2013

A California bill that could strip tax-exempt status from Little League, the Boy Scouts of America and other “discriminatory” nonprofit youth-serving groups could come up for a final vote this week.

The first-of-its-kind bill, SB 323, passed the California Senate and sailed through Assembly committees to a floor vote, possibly this week.

But opponents are taking heart that there might not be enough votes in the state Assembly to pass the bill.

The chamber did not consider the bill in its Monday session, but may take it up when it convenes Friday.

The bill, introduced by State Sen. Ricardo Lara, names the Boy Scouts, Little League, Future Farmers of America and 19 other organizations as examples of groups that could be stripped of their tax-exempt status if found to discriminate based on gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, race, religion or religious affiliation.

The measure also threatens tax-exempt status for public and private schools found to sponsor discriminatory youth groups. One critic said it could even threaten an exemption status held by a church.

SEE ALSO: Pope Francis: ‘Who am I to judge’ gays?

“Traditional values regarding heterosexuality are being branded as the legal equivalent of racism, and so there’s the quite genuine fear that the tax code really is the battleground against the traditional churches,” said Alan Reinach, executive director of Church State Council, which opposes SB 323.

“It’s not about ‘live and let live.’ If the churches do not conform to the values of homosexuality, then we will lose our standing in society,” he said.

Proponents of Mr. Lara’s bill — called the Youth Equality Act — say groups that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or atheist youths should not receive preferential tax status.

LGBT youths need to be assured that they can have “equal access to participate in all youth organizations,” said Mr. Lara, who has spoken of his own experiences as a gay youth.

Supporters of the bill include Equality California, the American Civil Liberties Union, the California National Organization for Women, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, the city of West Hollywood and the Service Employees International Union of California.

Opponents include traditional-values groups, as well as three churches: Calvary Assembly of God, First Christian Church and Lighthouse Baptist Church.

SEE ALSO: ACLU ‘stunned’ as New Mexico judge rules gay marriage legal, despite law

They say SB 323 discriminates against organizations that have faith-based convictions and forces them to adopt the government’s viewpoint on sexual orientation and gender identity in their hiring, practices, membership, objectives or activities.

Many youth groups do not even hold their own tax-exempt status, but operate under the exemption of their church conference, said Mr. Reinach, whose public policy organization focuses on religious-freedom issues.

So if a youth group is found to be discriminatory, “what are you going to do — revoke the tax exemption for two dozen schools and 150 churches or at least all of their youth groups?” he asked.

Mr. Reinach also wondered how the California Franchise and Tax Board would decide what is discriminatory, and how would it enforce the collection of taxes for sales of hot dogs, sodas and cookies.

“Volunteers are going to collect tax and send it in. Really?” he asked.

Other opponents include Capitol Resource Institute, Concerned Women for America of California, Pacific Justice Institute and Traditional Values Coalition.

Gay-friendly bills have appeared to be unstoppable in the California, and SB 323 has followed the same trajectory.

But as a tax bill, SB 323 needs supermajority approval. In the Senate, the bill passed with no vote to spare; in the Assembly, it needs 54 votes, the California Family Alliance said.

However, the Assembly is missing at least one Democratic vote, as a member recently stepped down for another job, and at least three Democrats may not be in lockstep with their political brethren, the California Family Alliance said.

Still, it noted Monday, if one or more Republicans vote in favor of Mr. Lara’s bill, it will be on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has eagerly signed several other bills strengthening gay rights.

Mr. Lara has said the Boy Scouts of America has a discriminatory policy because it won’t allow gay adults to be members. Other groups named in the bill are Bobby Sox, Campfire Inc., 4-H Clubs, Future Farmers of America, Future Homemakers of America, Boys’ Clubs, Girls’ Clubs, Pop Warner football and several soccer organizations.

Sandy Spavone, executive director of the homemakers group — renamed Family, Career and Community Leaders of America to attract young men — said she did not expect the bill to impact their group because it doesn’t discriminate.

Brian McClintock, a spokesman for the Little League, said his group already has policies not to discriminate on the “basis of race, creed, color, national origin, marital status, gender, sexual orientation or disability.”

Two people associated with Future Farmers of America but not authorized to speak for it said they couldn’t imagine why their organization was named in the bill.

Scott Walter at the Philanthropy Daily blog called the bill “totalitarian” and said it misunderstood a basic premise: that tax-exempt status is given to legitimate service organizations, not just those that are government-preferred or popular.

But bill supporter John O’Connor, executive director of Equality California, said, “California does not tolerate discrimination and we certainly shouldn’t pay for it.” Organizations that “discriminate against a young person or leader because of who they are or who they love should be sent a clear message — discrimination has a real cost,” he said.

A New York lawmaker has introduced a similar bill.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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