Utah Scouters had a lot to cheer about after the California Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of Scouting organizations barring gays, agnostics and atheists from membership.
The court said the Boy Scouts of America is not covered by California civil rights laws and can refuse membership to such individuals.In a pair of unanimous and long-awaited decisions, the court said the Scouts are not a business and therefore are free, like any private club, to set their own membership policies.
"We are very pleased with the decision of the California Supreme Court," said Great Salt Lake Council spokesman Kay Godfrey in a written statement.
"We have always maintained our organization's right of freedom of association. Scouting has held strong for nearly a century to the rights and responsibility of private organizations to determine their own standards of membership," Godfrey said.
Other Utah Scouting officials and a national spokesman for the BSA also responded to the two decisions of the California court. Scouting executives in the Trapper Trails Council, Ogden, could not be contacted by telephone after the latest court ruling. But they have said in the past they strongly support a united stance by Scouting on such issues.
One ruling in California on Monday upheld a decision by a Contra Costa County Scout organization in 1981 to reject Timothy Curran, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout, as an assistant Scoutmaster after he disclosed in an interview he was gay.
The other ruling involved 9-year-old twin brothers, Michael and William Randall, who were barred from an Orange County Cub Scout den in 1990 after they refused to declare a belief in God.
The twins were allowed into the Scouts by lower-court rulings and recently qualified to become Eagle Scouts, subject to approval by the national organization. They and their father, James G. Randall, who is also their lawyer, say the boys are agnostics who haven't yet worked out their religious beliefs.
Both suits were brought under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination by business establishments on various grounds, including sexual orientation and religion.
The justices said Monday that the Boy Scouts are a private, selective organization, not a business.
Alan M. Bird, Springville, president of the Utah National Parks Council, said he and other officials in the Provo-based council are happy with the California court's decision. Bird said he is pleased the court recognized the BSA is a private institution. He said Scouting "should be free to choose values that we consider important in the lives of young people and should be able to promote those values."
While pointing out that Scouting should be free to set standards for membership, Bird pointed out that Scouting teaches its youth members and leaders to respect the rights of agnostics, atheists and gays who may hold views different from principles espoused by Scouting.
"We teach our young people that everyone should respect the rights of others. They have a right to believe as they believe" as long as they don't try to impose their beliefs on others, Bird said.
Gregg Shields, national spokesman for the BSA, told the Deseret News on Tuesday that the BSA is elated with the decision of the California Supreme Court.
"For 88 years we have brought the moral values of the Scout Oath and Law to American boys, helping them to achieve the objectives of Scouting. Since our founding in 1910, the BSA has been a voluntary association, and those who meet the standards of membership are welcome," Shields said.
While the California Supreme Court ruling is seen by many as a feather in the cap of the Boy Scouts, the BSA is still awaiting decisions on appeals in rulings in other cases in other states, including New Jersey and the District of Columbia. And some Scouting officials have indicated that new legal challenges are always a possibility in the future.
A state appeals court in New Jersey ruled on March 2 that James Dale, a former assistant Scoutmaster should not have been expelled from the Scouts eight years ago because he is homosexual.
That ruling was the first legal defeat in a court for the BSA in a series of challenges to its exclusion policies related to homosexuality. Shields said the state appeals court ruling has been appealed.
Godfrey said he hopes the California Supreme Court's "insightful" ruling will enable public opinion to now "focus on the many positive contributions Scouting is making to society today."