New York may sue Boy Scouts to force acceptance of gay leaders

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Boy Scout Casey Chambers carries a rainbow flag during the San Francisco Gay Pride Festival in California June 29, 2014. | REUTERS/Noah Berger

ALBANY, New York (Christian Examiner) – The head of the civil rights division in the New York attorney general's office has issued a letter to the Boy Scouts of America asking for more information on its membership and hiring policies – a possible precursor to legal action against the organization for its ban on the hiring of homosexuals as adult Scout leaders.

In the April 20 letter to BSA Chief Executive Scout Wayne Brock, obtained by the New York Times, Kristin Clarke cited state and New York City statutes which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring.

Clarke told BSA leaders that "New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is committed to ensuring equal protection under the law for all New Yorkers, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals who live and work in New York."

Clarke also warned, "Entities that operate in or are registered to do business in the state of New York must comply with these anti-discrimination requirements."

The inquiry and review of BSA policy stems from the hiring of an openly-gay adult Scout leader, Pascal Tessier, now 18, by the Greater New York Councils in early April in defiance of the group's organizational ban. That decision has left the national leadership, including the group's new president, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a quandary again.

Under pressure from gay rights groups, the BSA's national leadership already ended its longstanding ban on homosexual Scouts during its annual meeting in Texas in 2013, but the group left in place the prohibition on homosexual adult leaders. Critics argued then that the decision created a loophole for gay rights activists to challenge the ban on homosexual leaders as gay Scouts grew up and desired to become Scout leaders.

With that policy now being openly challenged, BSA leaders have yet to offer any hint of what action they might take.

However, if the group follows precedent, Tessier will either be terminated or the BSA could take further action against the troops in New York supporting him. The BSA in 2014 revoked the charter of the Rainier Beach United Methodist Troop in Seattle after the group refused to dismiss openly gay Scout leader Geoffrey McGrath. The troop was the first dismissed for that cause since the organization was founded 100 years before.

The potential dismissal of Tessier from his role as an openly-gay adult Scout leader will almost certainly bring a civil rights lawsuit. Tessier is reportedly represented by David Boies, the lawyer who successful upended California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in that state.

The dispute likely will be fought in the court of public opinion as well.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale in 2000 that the BSA, a private, non-profit organization, had a First Amendment right to free association and, therefore, could dismiss a gay Scout leader without violating public accommodation laws.