The US Supreme Court denied an appeal this week by a Boy Scouts affiliate that lost its rent break from the city of Berkeley, California because the Scouts exclude gays and atheists.
The court, without comment, upheld a California Supreme Court ruling this March that said a city is entitled to subsidise only organisations that comply with its anti-discrimination rules.
The case involved the Sea Scouts, a non-profit organisation that teaches sailing, carpentry and plumbing to teenagers. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the organisation used a berth at the Berkeley Marina without charge from the 1930s until 1998, when the City Council eliminated rent subsidies for nonprofits that discriminated on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and other categories.
The Sea Scouts, the only group affected by the change, have been charged $500 a month in rent since refusing to promise that they would admit gays as members or leaders.
The organisation filed a lawsuit in 1999, arguing that it should not be forced to surrender its rights as the price of public funding. The suit was based on a ruling by the US Supreme Court in a New Jersey case in 2000 that said the Boy Scouts’ constitutional right of freedom of association included the right to exclude gays, despite a state civil rights law.
City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, who argued that Berkeley taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidise a private organisation that won’t honour city anti-discrimination laws, told the Oakland Tribune that the city is “delighted.”
“We believe now it is crystal clear that taxpayers have no constitutional duty to fund discriminatory clubs,” she said, “The city has a right to require public-subsidised programmes to be open to all, so we’re happy that principle has been reiterated by the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in this case.”
Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Harold Johnson, co-counsel for the Berkeley Sea Scouts’ skipper, expressed disappointment that the court won’t review “Berkeley’s policy of punishing the Sea Scouts because they are not politically correct.”
“But we are confident that, eventually, the Court will take a case addressing the underlying issues, because there are too many examples of government discrimination against Scouting and other belief-based organisations to ignore,” Johnson said.
The California Supreme Court said an organisation’s right to determine its own membership policies did not guarantee access to public funding.
The ruling was one of several legal setbacks for the Boy Scouts since the 2000 Supreme Court case.
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