Boy Scout policy change on gays might be limited

A developing story about the Boy Scouts potentially ending their ban on gay members and leaders may just be limited to its national organization.

NBC News and Reuters were among the first news organizations to report the organization’s national group was in serious talks about changing its controversial policy that excludes gays.

The battle between the Scouts and groups who want the organization to include gays dates back to an historic Supreme Court decision in 2000.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said in Boy Scouts v. Dale that the Scouts had a right to exclude a leader who openly stated he was gay.

“The forced inclusion of an unwanted person in a group infringes the group’s freedom of expressive association if the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints,” the court said in a majority opinion from Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

In a Constitution Check article for Constitution Daily last year, Lyle Denniston explained why that 2000 decision may not have been the final word in the situation.

“In court, the Scouts have argued that the decision in the Dale case 12 years ago provides First Amendment protection for the ban on homosexuals, both as to adult leaders and to youthful members, while challengers have contended that the decision dealt only with its specific facts – exclusion of an adult leader who was a public advocate of gay equality,” Denniston said.

From the NBC report, it appears other factors could be at work, which essentially will move the decision about including gays in the Scouts to a local level, and away from the national organization. Those factors, said NBC, could include a potential loss of corporate financial support for the group.

According to the Boy Scouts of America 2011 annual report, the group has 295 local councils that effectively manage 2.7 million members, through more than 100, 000 local organizations.

BSA spokesman Deron Smith clarified the national group’s position in a statement posted on its website.

“This would mean there would no longer be any national policy regarding sexual orientation, and the chartered organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with each organization’s mission, principles, or religious beliefs. BSA members and parents would be able to choose a local unit that best meets the needs of their families,” Smith said.

“The policy change under discussion would allow the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address this issue.”

That type of decision would potentially allow each grassroots-level group to decide its own inclusive—or exclusive—policy.

The Scouts and opponents have battled over the issue for years, especially in Philadelphia, where a local Scouts group and the city are fighting over nearly $900,000 in legal fees.

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