Monday, March 8, 2004

The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear the Boy Scouts of America’s appeal of a lower court ruling barring the organization from sharing in the proceeds of a Connecticut-run charity because of the Scouts’ ban against homosexuals.

In July 2003, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Connecticut state Comptroller Nancy Wyman acted properly when she prohibited the Boy Scouts from a state workplace charitable campaign because it excludes homosexuals from membership and employment opportunities.

Appeals Court Judges Guido Calabresi, Fred I. Parker and Robert D. Sack, all appointed by President Clinton, said an earlier ruling by a federal court judge in Bridgeport, Conn., did not violate the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment rights as claimed.

Judge Calabresi wrote that Connecticut’s antidiscrimination law was “viewpoint neutral” as enacted, and was not applied in a discriminatory manner against the Boy Scouts.

“Connecticut has made a distinction between groups that discriminate in employment and membership policies and groups that discriminate in the provision of services,” the judge said. “Connecticut has decided that discrimination of the former sort violates its equal-protection law and that discrimination of the latter sort does not. Such a distinction is both reasonable and viewpoint neutral.”

The Supreme Court without comment declined to hear the case.

In a statement, the Boy Scouts said it was “disappointed to learn” the high court had decided not to hear the case, saying Connecticut’s exclusion of Boy Scout councils from a 900-charity fund-raising campaign among state employees was “a clear violation” of its First Amendment and equal-protection rights.

“Charities still permitted to participate in this campaign include gay and lesbian groups and numerous groups which discriminatorily limit services to a particular sex, ethnic group or age group,” the organization said. But it said it would continue to provide inner-city youth in Connecticut with scouting’s character-development and leadership-building programs.

The Boy Scouts filed a federal lawsuit in June 2000 charging violations of its First Amendment rights, the state’s own regulations governing the charitable campaign and state laws. The organization said Connecticut laws prohibited the state from promoting homosexuality in state institutions and from discriminating against people with heterosexual preferences.

The organization is pursuing a similar case in San Diego, where city officials want to evict the Boy Scouts from a park where it runs a youth aquatic center. The Bush administration sided with the Scouts in that case last week.

In the Connecticut case, the appeals court upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton, who said an annual workplace charity drive could exclude the Connecticut Rivers Council, a local chapter of the Boy Scouts, because its policy on homosexuals violated the state’s antidiscrimination law.

Shortly after the suit was filed, the Supreme Court ruled in a separate case that the Boy Scouts’ right to expressive association was violated by New Jersey’s bid to force the organization to accept a homosexual man as an assistant scoutmaster. Connecticut officials said that ruling did not effect its decision and Judge Eginton agreed.

Connecticut has an annual workplace campaign to “raise funds from state employees for charitable and public health, welfare, environmental, conservation and service purposes.” Employees make voluntary contributions to charities selected from a list of participating organizations.

The Boy Scouts took in about $10,000 a year from the program, according to its lawsuit.

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