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ACLU Press Release - 07/30/96 -- ACLU Says Government and Private Groups Operating Boy Scout Troops Are Discriminating

ACLU Says Government and Private Groups Operating Boy Scout Troops Are Discriminating

July 30, 1996

CHICAGO -- Charging that the City of Chicago, the Chicago Board of Education, the FBI, Commonwealth Edison, and other government and private organizations are participating in illegal discrimination by operating Boy Scout units, the American Civil Liberties Union today announced that it has demanded that these organizations either seek to change the Boy Scouts' discriminatory practices or stop participating in the local scouting council.

"This is not a challenge to the Boy Scouts of America or the Chicago Area Council, but it does speak to the policies those organizations embrace," said Harvey Grossman, ACLU Legal Director. "Our concern is with the private and government agencies which operate Boy Scout troops. By enforcing the Boy Scouts' discriminatory practices in their own operations, these public and private organizations are themselves engaging in illegal discrimination."

The ACLU contacted several municipal and private agencies by mail to alert them that their operation of Boy Scout units violates the city's Human Rights Ordinance and other laws prohibiting discrimination. Each Boy Scout unit, regardless of who operates it, must follow Boy Scout rules and regulations. The Boy Scouts require all prospective scouts, leaders, and employees to recognize an obligation to God and to acknowledge God's authority. The Boy Scouts also prohibit gay men and lesbians from participating in scouting activities, whether as adult or youth members, volunteers leaders, or professional employees. Persons who decline to comply with these requirements are barred from participating in scouting programs.

Both public and private agencies operating scouting programs thus illegally discriminate by limiting their services to people whose religious beliefs are approved by the Boy Scouts, and by excluding individuals based on their sexual orientation. This is in direct violation of laws including the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and religious belief.

"It is ironic that the City of Chicago, which took a strong stance against discrimination based on sexual orientation when it passed Chicago's Human Rights Ordinance, is actively engaged in such discrimination itself," noted ACLU of Illinois Gay and Lesbian Rights Project Director Roger Leishman. "We are asking the city to act consistently with its own policies, and to obey its own laws, by disavowing the Scouts' anti-gay practices."

"Government agencies that operate Boy Scout programs under these policies advance the Scouts' religious mission," added Jane Whicher, ACLU staff counsel. "Putting government resources behind religion violates the First Amendment, and cannot be tolerated."

The City of Chicago and its various agencies operate numerous Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, and Explorer posts. The agencies involved include the Chicago Police and Fire Departments, the Chicago Housing Authority, the city's Corporation Counsel, and the Chicago Board of Education. Other operators include the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and the U.S. Customs Service, as well as private agencies such as the Chicago and Cook County Bar Associations, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and the LaSalle Banks.

The ACLU is presently litigating the case of G. Keith Richardson, an Eagle Scout who, when he inquired to the Chicago Area Council about a job as a professional scouter, was told that the Boy Scouts would not consider hiring a gay man. The Chicago Commission on Human Relations ruled that the Boy Scouts' policy discriminating against homosexuals is illegal; the case is before a state circuit court for review. It was through this litigation that the ACLU learned of the many government and private organizations that actively discriminate in their operation of scouting programs.

The ACLU is awaiting a response from the City Corporation Counsel and attorneys for the other sponsors before considering further action. "It is our hope," said Legal Director Grossman, "that these organizations will recognize and actively work to change these discriminatory policies, or in the alternative discontinue operation of scouting programs."

Copyright 1996, The American Civil Liberties Union

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