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Boy Scouts' homosexuality ban: ACLU touts planned Boulder schools policy change

The Boy Scouts of America have reaffirmed a ban of gays from participation as organization members or leaders. This move prompted the ACLU of Boulder to renew an old complaint over the Boulder Valley School District allowing scout groups to use its facilities at free or discounted rates despite its anti-discrimination policy. But it turns out a BVSD change is in the works.

After yesterday's announcement from the Boy Scouts national HQ, Boulder chapter chairman Judd Golden sent the school district a letter on view below that outlines the ACLU's objections to the facilities-use deal and argues in favor of making a change. A short time later, he received a call from a school district representative "saying, 'We've done something,'" he notes. As Golden understands it, the school district has crafted an administrative regulation that will treat all youth organizations equally, and charge them each a nominal fee, as opposed to giving some of them price breaks.

"That's exactly what our first proposal to the school district was -- to stop their practice of providing subsidized rental rates to a discriminatory organization," Golden adds.

The Boulder Valley School District's Education Center puts a strong emphasis on equity.
The Boulder Valley School District's Education Center puts a strong emphasis on equity.

And how long did it take for the school district to reach this conclusion? By Golden's estimate, only twelve years.

"Back in the year 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court defended the Boy Scouts' right to exclude gays from membership and leadership" in a case known as Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, Golden points out. Afterward, he goes on, "one of our members, who was deeply involved in the Boulder Valley School District, said, 'Look at this. They give the Boy Scouts special discounted rental rates for facility use, and that's not right,' because there were governments around the nation seeking to limit the Boy Scouts access to public facilities. Basically, they were saying, 'We don't tolerate your discrimination, and we won't give you any special rights and privileges like we give to other youth groups.'

"The Boy Scouts responded by going to Congress and getting passed a statute that's popularly known as the Boy Scouts Protection Act. It basically says the Boy Scouts and similar organizations can't be excluded from any school that gets public funds under any circumstances, because you can't deny equal access. So we looked at that, and looked at what the Boy Scouts were doing, and said to the school district, 'You can fix this. You just have to treat all these organizations equally, by not giving any of them special rights and privileges. So if the Boy Scouts or the ACLU or a church group says, 'We want to use the school district facilities off-hours to hold a meeting,' the district just has to look at them blindly and say, 'As long as you don't violate the law, we'll grant you access, and we'll discharge a fee to do that.'"

Sounds simple -- but it wasn't.

Page down to read more about the Boulder Valley School District and the Boy Scouts of America.

Golden says the school district feared that even this even-handed approach would violate the Boy Scout Protection Act -- and this remained the case even after a 2010 Supreme Court ruling titled Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which allowed a California university to deny recognition to a campus group that banned homosexuals by dint of the school's anti-discrimination policies.

One reason for this trepidation? Golden cites the Alliance Defense Fund, a powerful national organization now known as Alliance Defending Freedom. "They wrote a scathing letter to school districts calling out the ACLU and saying we wanted to exclude the Boy Scouts," he says. "So they started out with a big lie and it flowed downhill from there. But the school district took it seriously. They said, 'It looks like if we do something, they may sue us.'"

As such, the ACLU's efforts to promote a new policy, which had revved up again after the Martinez ruling and continued with a June 2011 letter, seemed to have stalled once more -- at least until yesterday. And while the new tack hasn't been officially adopted, the early signs strike Golden as positive. "It seems to be on an administrative fast track that will be finalized soon," he says. "And if that is indeed the case, we've finally convinced the school district to do the right thing."

It needn't have taken so long, Golden feels. In his view, "They could have done exactly what they've done" years ago. Still, he's pleased that things are moving forward.

"When an organization chooses to pursue a discriminatory policy, I think they should be to some degree marginalized," he maintains. "And since the Boulder Valley School District has one of the strongest nondiscrimination policies of any school district around, we were trying to help the district better understand and apply its own nondiscrimination policy -- to work with them to find a way not to grant special rights and privileges to a discriminatory organization. That's inimical to its mission. And I think we've helped them find a way."

Here's the ACLU letter to the school district in advance of the reported policy shift.

ACLU Boy Scouts Letter

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