The school district and the Boy Scouts

Isn't BVSD condoing -- even subsidizing -- discrimination?

| Sep 24, 2010

Along with the City of Boulder and Boulder County, the Boulder Valley School District has strict policies against discrimination, including protections for gay and lesbian employees and students. So, why is the BVSD violating its own policies by subsidizing the Boy Scouts?

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is one of few youth organizations that practices discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation and religion. The organization prohibits membership by gay teens or adult leaders or by atheists or agnostics. The BSA has, of course, the right to establish its own internal policies. Bigotry may be stupid, and a horrible example for young people, but it’s not illegal.

Special favors for Boy Scouts?

For taxpayers in the Boulder Valley School District, however, the issue is whether a discriminatory organization should get special favors. The BVSD administration says yes, and allows the BSA access to school facilities at rental rates below those charged other community organizations.

On August 2, 2010 the Boulder County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union asked the BVSD to cease subsidizing discrimination through its policy of giving special breaks to the BSA. School superintendent Chris King responded to the ACLU by saying that the administration would study the situation.

The ACLU advised King that the U. S Supreme Court, in the case of Christian Legal Society versus Martinez, recently ruled that public institutions were not required to fund organizations that violated nondiscrimination policies. In that case the society, which banned gay and lesbian members, sought to receive support from Hastings University, a public law school in California.

The Supreme Court ruled that public institutions could not ban discriminatory groups from using public facilities; but that there is no Constitutional requirement for those institutions to subsidize them. Thus, the BVSD can change its rental rate policy and stop subsidizing the BSA.

Scouts in hot water for years

The BSA has been troubled by its discriminatory policies for years. Many scouting supporters have split off from the national organization and formed inclusive groups such as Scouting for All. Unfortunately, the BSA is governed by a conservative oligarchy at its Texas headquarters. Bringing scouting into the 21st Century is apparently not a priority among the “good old boys” in Irving. That fundamentalist “leadership” has presided over a 17 percent decline in BSA membership since 1999.

The BSA stands essentially alone among major youth organizations in embracing bigotry. Other groups, such as the Girl Scouts of America, the Civil Air Patrol cadet program and the Campfire Girls, welcome members regardless of their sexual orientations or religious beliefs. Numerous cities, foundations and businesses have dropped their support for, and sponsorship of, the BSA due to its discriminatory policies. In the end, the victims of the BSA’s discriminatory policies are the scouts themselves.

The Board Valley School Board needs to uphold its own policies against discrimination, and to do so without delay. Time is of the essence in the matter, since voters in the BVSD shortly will be asked to support tax measure 3-A. Voters in the district have traditionally supported tax issues since they understand that a good public school system is vital for an informed citizenry. This is even the case for those of us who do not have children.

However, if the BVSD continues to embrace discrimination by giving the BSA subsidized rental rates, many of us may have to reconsider our support.

Columnist and investigative reporter Eric Karnes is a Boulder-based commercial real estate research consultant who advises several national clients. He is a long-time participant in local debates about planning issues.