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Court rejects Scouts case that could affect religious groups

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review a lower-court decision that it was warned could threaten religious organizations.

The high court announced without comment March 8 it would not accept a case in which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the removal of the Boy Scouts from a state charitable giving campaign because of the organization’s policy on homosexuals. The justices’ refusal to review the ruling means the Connecticut State Employees Campaign Committee’s expulsion of the Boy Scouts will remain in effect.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission had signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed in early February by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty that called for the Supreme Court to review and reverse the Second Circuit ruling. The brief cautioned the attacks against the Boy Scouts in Connecticut and other states are “merely a foretaste of what awaits religious organizations.”

Connecticut’s decision on the scouting organization came after the state’s human rights commission ruled its inclusion in the giving campaign would violate a Connecticut law protecting homosexual rights.

The Boy Scouts of America, which prohibits known homosexuals from membership and leadership, went to court seeking restoration of its place in the campaign. The BSA argued Connecticut had violated its rights to free speech and association. A federal judge ruled against the scouts, however, granting a motion for summary judgment by the state.

In the brief urging the high court to accept the case, the ERLC and its allies said the Second Circuit’s decision threatens the rights of associations to set criteria for their members. It particularly endangers “religious organizations that regularly take (often unpopular) positions on the very same moral issues addressed by states’ own discrimination laws,” the brief said.

Unless the justices overturn the opinion, “many expressive associations that choose to reflect any controversial views on abortion, female clergy, homosexual marriage, contraceptive medical coverage and religious affiliation through their membership and hiring policies will risk having to change their messages or face an avalanche of lawsuits,” according to the brief.

ERLC President Richard Land said the Supreme Court’s denial of the appeal would permit “legalized discrimination.”

“This is one more judicially sanctioned attack on American’s free exercise, religious rights,” Land said.

Both the Boy Scouts of America and Land decried a comment in a footnote of the Second Circuit’s opinion from last July. In it, the court said, “Connecticut has not prevented the BSA from exercising its First Amendment rights; it has instead set up a regulatory scheme to achieve constitutionally valid ends under which, as it happens, the BSA pays a price for doing so.”

Land said, “Since when has it been constitutional for a court to say there’s a price demanded by government for exercising your constitutionally protected rights?”

In a written statement, the BSA said it “believes that this decision flies in the face of Supreme Court decisions prohibiting viewpoint discrimination, as well as [the high court’s 2000 ruling that upheld the Boy Scouts’ right to bar homosexuals].”

It is possible the Supreme Court may be awaiting another case involving the Boy Scouts. State and local governments increasingly have ruled against the Boy Scouts in recent years because of the organization’s policy on homosexuality.

In addition to the ERLC and the Becket Fund, other organizations joining in the brief were the Center for Public Justice and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

The case was Boy Scouts of America v. Wyman.