Friday, May 20, 2005

The San Diego Boy Scouts Controversy: An Exchange with One Panel Member



My post below about the panel debate in San Diego brought this response from Eric Isaacson, one of the panel members and presumably an attorney representing the ACLU in the legal wrangling that is the subject of the panel. For some reason I cannot get Mr. Isaacson's comment to open in the comments section below the post, but I did receive the comment separately by e-mail, so I am posting it here for review.

UPDATE: The link to the archived webcast is here, if you'd like to watch it. If you're interested in these issues at all I highly recommend watching.

Mr. Isaacson does not mention in his comment that he was one of the panelists in the May 18 discussion of the San Diego controversy. Here's the entire panel:

  • Professor Alan Brownstein, University of California Davis School of Law
  • George Davidson, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP
  • Professor John Eastman, Chapman University School of Law
  • Eric Isaacson, Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins
  • Dean Kenneth Starr, Pepperdine University School of Law
  • Dean Daniel Rodriguez, University of San Diego Law School (moderator)
(I am not suggesting that Mr. Isaacson intended to avoid mentioning his involvement on the panel. His post below seems very well-informed, and a Google search showed him to be a panelist on this page. For some reason the earlier link I had was to a page about the panel that did not show his name.)

The web site of Mr. Isaacson's law firm states here that he is experienced in pro bono (public interest) litigation. His firm's biographical summary for him is here.

Enough background. I am delighted that Mr. Isaacson took the time to respond. These are issues that need debate and full exposure. I hope to be posting more about this, but I want my posts to be as informative as possible.

In that spirit, here is Mr. Isaacson's comment:

The BSA operates its headquarters for a region covering nearly 9,000 miles of Southern California from the City of San Diego's Balboa Park - - paying one
dollar a year rent for facilities where it employs twenty or thirty people to do the BSA's organizational business. Membership forms downloaded from these regional headquarters - - operated from offices owned by the City - - carry a Declaration of Religious Principle announcing that anyone who does not share the BSA leadership's theology about "duty to God" is incapable of becoming "the best kind of citizen." That theology led the BSA to ban a major denomination from its Religious Relations Committee in 1992, and to throw the denomination out of the BSA's Religious Awards program in 1998, because the denomination preached against discrimination, shunning, and exclusion. From Balboa Park, the BSA issues orders enforcing rules that those who do not share the its theology shall be shunned -- along with homosexuals who are ostracized on the basis that they are "not clean." The City of San Diego has, moreover, posted signs around the BSA's regional headquarters announcing that the City stands behind these policies, explaining that all this is a "joint operation" of the BSA and local government: "This property is owned by the City of San Diego and is being utilized for the benefit of general public through the joint operation of the city and the Boy Scouts of America." Now, it's true that the Boy Scouts are entitled to discriminate on the basis of religion, if they wish, and to ostracize others as spiritually "unclean" and as social inferiors - - or, "not the best kind of citizen," as BSA puts it. But the City of San Diego, as a governmental body cannot sponsor or endorse such activity, which it clearly has done in San Diego, thereby violating both the state and federal constitutions.
This is a truly fascinating set of statements. I will admit that I could not listen to the May 18 web cast in which Mr. Isaacson participated, and I am no expert on the facts of the San Diego controversy. Thanks to Mr. Isaacson, I do intend to learn a lot more.

For now, however, I can make the following responses to Mr. Isaacson's comment:

1. ". . . anyone who does not share the BSA leadership's theology about 'duty to God' is incapable of becoming 'the best kind of citizen.'"

It's interesting that Mr. Isaacson describes the BSA's position as a "theology," since the BSA is not a church. This sounds like a mere polemic to me. Also, I cannot find the downloaded membership forms he refers to, but I will; I suspect there is a good counter-argument here.

2. "That theology led the BSA to ban a major denomination from its Religious Relations Committee in 1992, and to throw the denomination out of the BSA's Religious Awards program in 1998, because the denomination preached against discrimination, shunning, and exclusion."

It would be interesting to know what "major denomination" was involved and what it did to get itself excluded in this manner. I have a hunch it was not merely expressing polite disagreement.

UPDATE: The donomination was the Unitarian Univeralist Church. I still don't know what they did to get dismissed from any sort of BSA affiliation, if indeed that occurred.

3. "From Balboa Park, the BSA issues orders enforcing rules that those who do not share ... its s theology shall be shunned -- along with homosexuals who are ostracized on the basis that they are 'not clean.'"

I have been in Scouting a long time and have never seen "shunning" or "ostracizing." Both are contrary to core Scouting principles. In fact, sexual orientation simply does not come up, in my experience, unless someone makes an issue of it. Nowhere in any BSA literature I have ever seen any group, let alone homosexuals, pronounced "not clean."

4. ". . . it's true that the Boy Scouts are entitled to discriminate on the basis of religion, if they wish, and to ostracize others as spiritually 'unclean' and as social inferiors - - or, 'not the best kind of citizen,' as BSA puts it."

I would be interested in seeing any BSA statement calling anyone "spiritually unclean" or "social inferiors." I'd also like to know the context of the "not the best kind of citizen" statement attributed to the BSA.

There will be more about this here. Stay tuned! And thanks again to Mr. Isaacson for his comment. Again, civil discussion of these issues is welcome and terribly important.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not represent the ACLU or its clients in the Barnes-Wallace case.

With the Rev. Silvio Nardoni, my wife and I wrote an amicus curiae brief that we filed on behalf of the Social Justice Committee, Board of Trustees, ministers, and religious education director of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego (where my wife and I both teach Sunday school). Joining the brief were the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry California, and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations - - a denomination whose members include North America's oldest Protestant churches.

This URL should take you to the brief, if you wish to read it: http://firstuusandiego.org/coming_events/amicus_brief.pdf

Please understand that my denomination had a history of working with the BSA, with individual congregations sponsoring dozens of scout troops. Please understand that as a Boy Scout, I used the facilities at Camp Balboa, in the City of San Diego's Balboa Park. Understand too that my own son wants to be a Cub Scout - - and to go camping in Balboa Park, like his daddy did. But the BSA has effectively excluded him, because we are religious people who cannot affirm that any of God's children should be shunned on the basis of theological viewpoint or sexual orientation.

The BSA's current hostility to my denomination is no secret, and it unquestionably is based on our religious traditions of affirming human dignity and opposing oppression and discrmination.

Eagle Scout Jay Mechling recounts in his book "On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth" (Univ. Chicago Press 2001) (p.227) that because we teach our children that institutionalized discrimination is wrong, the BSA "punished Unitarian Universalist Church and its Scout members by revoking the religious medal boys can earn." The Chicago Tribune (July 24, 1998) observed that the BSA "effectively excommunicated the Unitarians."

Since 1991, the BSA also has repeatedly and publicly condemned homosexuals as unclean. Indeed, citing a 1991 position paper, the BSA told the Supreme Court in Dale that homosexuality "'violates the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed.'" 530 U.S. at 651. According to the Supreme Court, the BSA insisted "that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values embodied in the Scout Oath and Law, particularly with the values represented by the terms 'morally straight' and 'clean.'" 530 U.S. at 650.

Citing Thomas v. Review Board, 450 U.S. 707, 714 (1981), the Supreme Court ruled that the BSA is entitled to condemn and ostracize homosexuals as spiritually unclean, explaining: "'Religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others to merit First Amendment protection.'" 530 U.S. at 651 (quoting Thomas).

Let's be clear: The BSA is entitled to say what it likes, to denigrate whomever it wishes, and even to discriminate on the basis of children's religious viewpoint. It can exclude my own child. But it has no right to demand governmental sponsorship of its leadership's outspoken and horribly divisive theology - - sponsorship that I firmly believe our constitutions' religion clauses flatly prohibit.

- - Eric Isaacson
 

Posted by Eric Isaacson

Monday, May 23, 2005 5:41:00 PM  

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