Boy Scouts off limits for California judges

by Dwayne Hastings, National Correspondent |

FRESNO, Calif. (Christian Examiner) -- State judges in California can no longer participate in the Boy Scouts of America because of its restrictions on who can serve as an adult leader.

The state's Supreme Court's January 23 vote effectively prohibits judges from affiliating with the Boy Scouts because the organization does not allow gay and lesbian adults to become troop leaders.

While the scouts were not specifically named in the court document, the rule change refers to all "youth organizations" and is a clear shot at the scouting organization.

Over 2.6 million boys and young men are involved in scouting according to the most recent report from the BSA. More than 1 million volunteers provided leadership for Scouting programs in 2013.

The high court's unanimous decision followed a recommendation by the court's Advisory Committee on the Code of Judicial Ethics last February that judges should be barred from the scouts as part of an effort to "promote the integrity of the judiciary."

The American Bar Association recommends that states develop a code of judicial conduct to "avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety."

California is one of 23 states with a judicial ethical code that prohibits judges from belonging to a group that "practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation." Until this decision, the code had exceptions for religious, military, and nonprofit youth organizations.

The state's Supreme Court in 1996 specifically approved an exemption for judges who were scouting volunteers. This action reverses that exception.

"The people of California have a right to an impartial and unbiased judiciary," Richard Fybel, a state appeals court justice and chairman of the court's ethics advisory committee, told the San Francisco Chronicle. He said this decision was a move in the right direction.

Julia Kelety, a Superior Court judge in San Diego and a committee chair for a local Boy Scout troop, opposes the scout's position on gay leaders and hopes the organization will alter its policies.

Yet the judge, who has two sons working to earn the Eagle rank, told the Los Angles Times she's never heard of anyone complaining about judges being involved with the scouting organization.

"I'm not convinced that the public is worried that judges will treat them unfairly because they are involved in the Boy Scouts," Klelety told the paper. "I do wonder, if other than a political angle, anyone has complained about a judge on a case because of an involvement in Boy Scouts."

In an editorial that aired on television station KSBW, Joseph Heston, president and general manager of the central California station, criticized the justices' decision, calling it a "sad and wasteful ruling," suggesting the court put the scouts "seemingly in the same league as the Ku Klux Klan."

"With all the new non-profit groups now trying to come up with ways to help kids and teens trying to resist gangs, underage drinking, pot-smoking, bullying and more, it just seems ludicrous to kick aside a group that has a track-record of proven results for youth success for over 100 years," Heston said.

As far back as 2003, legal organizations in the state were trying to revise the ethics code to erect a wall between judges and the scouts.

The ethics advisory committee has so far declined to forbid judges from being a part of churches and other religious organizations that might discriminate on the basis of sexual behavior.

The Boy Scouts of America has declined to comment on the court's decision. The rule goes into effect next January.

The scouting organization voted in 2000 to restrict membership to only heterosexual boys. The group reversed course in 2013, lifting the restrictions on openly gay scouts but held tight to a ban on troop leaders or scouting staff members who are homosexual.

The current BSA policy leaders age 18 and above, which took effect Jan. 1, 2014, reads: "While the BSA does not proactively inquire about sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA."

According to a CNN report, the scout's position on homosexual leaders has prompted a number of companies and other groups, including Merck, Intel, UPS and Major League Soccer, among others, to pull support from the organization.

Effective this year, the Walt Disney Company announced their employees can no longer designate the Boy Scouts as recipients of their VoluntEARS funds. The news report noted the company's program allows employees to volunteer in exchange for cash donations from Disney to a charity of their choice.