Attacks on Boy Scouts may expand to religion, court told

WASHINGTON (BP)--Various attacks against the Boy Scouts are "merely a foretaste of what awaits religious organizations" unless the U.S. Supreme Court reverses a recent appeals court decision, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other organizations have told the high court in a friend-of-the-court brief.

The ERLC signed onto a brief filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Feb. 6 asking the Supreme Court to review a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the scouting organization. The appeals court upheld a decision by the state of Connecticut last year to remove the Boy Scouts from its annual charitable giving campaign for state employees.

The Connecticut State Employees Campaign Committee expelled the Boy Scouts after the state's human rights commission ruled inclusion of the organization would violate a Connecticut law protecting homosexual rights.

The Boy Scouts of America, which prohibits known homosexuals from membership and leadership, went to court seeking restoration of its place in the campaign. The BSA argued Connecticut had violated scouting's rights to free speech and association. A federal judge ruled against the scouts, however, granting a motion for summary judgment by the state.

State and local governments increasingly have ruled against the Boy Scouts in recent years because of the organization's policy on homosexuality -- despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2000 upholding the scouts' right to bar homosexuals.

In the brief asking the Supreme Court to accept the case, the ERLC and its allies said the justices "should not tolerate this dodge" by the Second Circuit of their 2000 ruling on the scouts.

The Second Circuit's decision threatens the rights of associations to set criteria for their members, the brief contended. It particularly endangers "religious organizations that regularly take [often unpopular] positions on the very same moral issues addressed by states' own discrimination laws," the brief said.

Unless the Supreme Court overturns the opinion, "many expressive associations that choose to reflect any controversial views on abortion, female clergy, homosexual marriage, contraceptive medical coverage and religious affiliation through their membership and hiring policies will risk having to change their messages or face an avalanche of lawsuits," according to the brief.

When an association expresses viewpoints on issues, "any outside interference with its membership necessarily alters the group's message," the brief argued. "Associational rights are not second-class protections under free speech doctrine. Expressive association rights are not diminished, but are in fact more important, when a group's viewpoint is unpopular with the government, as the Boy Scouts' is with the state of Connecticut," according to the brief.

Some states have no religious exemptions in their anti-discrimination laws, while others restrict religious exemptions to certain categories, the brief said.

Shannon Royce, a legal consultant for the ERLC, said, "We believe it is critical for this case to be corrected, or the freedom of religion of churches and other religious institutions will ultimately be destroyed.

"At its root, freedom of religion must mean two things: First, freedom to believe according to the dictates of one's own conscience and, second, freedom to associate with people who share those core religious beliefs," Royce said. "If these religious beliefs are to be judged inadequate by the government because they have become politically incorrect, religious freedom as we have historically known it is lost."

In addition to the ERLC and the Becket Fund, other organizations joining in the brief were the Center for Public Justice and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

The case is Boy Scouts of America v. Wyman.


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