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California Supreme Court Says Judges Can Once Again Join Boy Scouts, Despite Ban on Atheists

Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court formally took a stand against the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay adult leaders by saying that state court judges could not participate in the organization. Anyone who did faced removal from the bench.Now that the BSA has reversed its stance, the Court’s Ethics Advisory Committee has reversed its position.But there’s still a problem.

Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court formally took a stand against the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay adult leaders by saying that state court judges could not participate in the organization. Anyone who did faced removal from the bench.

Now that the BSA has reversed its stance, the Court’s Ethics Advisory Committee has reversed its position.

On Thursday, the California Ethics Advisory Committee published an advisory statement saying judges could keep their Boy Scout affiliations for either of two reasons: if the troop allows gays and lesbians as leaders, or if it excludes them for religious reasons. The ban on discrimination in the judicial ethics code contains an exemption for exclusions motivated by religion.

I’m tempted to roll my eyes at how faith-based discrimination gets a green light, but regular discrimination is still a no-no… but it’s not the first time religion has been an escape hatch for bigots.

But there is a problem that the ethics committee is ignoring: The BSA still discriminates against atheists. If you’re openly non-religious, you can’t be a Boy Scout or an adult troop leader. This isn’t a legal issues since the BSA is a private group, but why is the ethics committee okay with that kind of exclusion?

The California code of judicial ethics actually bans membership in any discriminatory group (with religious exceptions):

A judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Doesn’t this count?

The committee says it’s open to public comments on the ethics code until December 1, and you can email your thoughts here.

Reader Brian, who brought this to my attention, included this in his message:

As a legal body, the California Ethics Advisory Committee must also be aware that requiring a belief in a god is religious discrimination. Even if units sponsored by religious organizations like churches are allowed to discriminate, there are still thousands of Boy Scout units in California that are not sponsored by religious organizations and would not be permitted an exemption from Canon 2C’s prohibition on religious discrimination.

I respectfully request that the California Ethics Advisory Committee reconsider the facts and publicly state that the Boy Scout’s continued religious discrimination excludes California judges from membership.

It seems like a clear-cut case of anti-atheist discrimination being overlooked as a real problem. No one’s surprised that religious troops may want exemptions from having gay or atheist scouts. But when the troops aren’t religious, why is the discrimination okay in the eyes of the State’s judicial ethics committee?

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