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Groups keep scout support

Florida agencies say they will not penalize troops for the Supreme Court ruling that permits exclusion of homosexual leaders.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2000

Agencies that sponsor or open their doors to Boy Scouts in the Tampa Bay area will maintain their relationships with troops, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that pitted constitutional rights against civil rights and, in the end, allowed the exclusion of homosexual troop leaders.

"I don't think anything's going to change," said John Cabeza, scout executive of the West Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America. "This was based on a New Jersey case which really at the time didn't have any effect on anything that happened anywhere else."

Among local officials polled Thursday, Cabeza's assessment appeared to ring true.

School districts in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties already permit scout troops to use their facilities under policies that apply to all groups and will continue to do so.

"We don't discriminate against people who lease (from us)," said Ron Stone, a spokesman for the Pinellas School district.

If the local Boy Scouts want to participate in Festival of States parades, so be it. They won't be penalized because they exclude homosexual leaders.

The General Commission on United Methodist Men, in a statement issued after Wednesday's decision, encouraged its local churches "to continue to recruit leaders who reflect the traditional values of our church." The church said it will continue to work with the Boy Scouts of America.

The West Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which includes Pinellas and west Pasco counties, expected things to remain the same.

"It affirmed our position that we are a private membership organization; therefore, we have a right to set our own standards," Cabeza said. "We make no effort to discover the sexual orientation. They don't fill that out on an application."

Cabeza said that the Boy Scouts, like all groups, have standards.

"We are not a hate group," he said. They have 15,000 scouts that come from a variety of ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds and who live on farms, in the city and in the suburbs.

The youth protection guideline, which prohibits an adult from being alone with a child, is designed to protect against physical and sexual abuse. But Cabeza said that's a general safety guideline and has nothing to do with the Supreme Court decision.

Despite the diversity of its participants, some say that the Boy Scouts are exclusionary and will suffer because of it.

"I think we'll be seeing a discriminatory, exclusive policy that will turn a lot of people off, and I think it will hurt them more than help them," said the Rev. Andy Sidden, pastor of the Spirit of Life Metropolitan Community Church in New Port Richey. The church was founded by gays and lesbians.

The Girl Scouts of America do not discriminate for any reason, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

In the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, former Scoutmaster James Dale filed a lawsuit after he was ousted from a New Jersey troop in 1990. His attorneys argued that Dale's exclusion violated New Jersey's anti-discrimination laws, a civil rights issue.

The Boy Scouts of America argued that they have a First Amendment right to make policies, an argument based on constitutional rights.

Stetson law professor Mark R. Brown said Thursday that one of the main differences in this civil rights versus constitutional rights fight is that the Supreme Court has never said that homosexuals are a "suspect" class, or a group of people targeted historically by the majority. Similarly, the Supreme Court did not find that Dale needed greater judicial protection.

Brown said that this decision probably will not stir the civil rights community, but instead it is defining a pattern of the court.

"I think it's indicative of a trend," Brown said. "They're more concerned with the white majority's ability to discriminate if it wants to."

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