Are Lawsuits Ahead for Church-Based Boy Scout Troops?

Are Lawsuits Ahead for Church-Based Boy Scout Troops?

If the Boy Scouts of America approve gay adult leaders, as they are expected to do late Monday (July 27), does that mean troops based at churches may end up in court if they ban gay Scoutmasters?

Scout officials predicted that would be “unlikely” in a document they released earlier this month to BSA members and leaders.

“We live in a litigious society, and frivolous lawsuits are threatened and filed every day,” reads the 14-page memo from the Boys Scouts’ law firm, Hughes Hubbard & Reed. “However, any lawsuit challenging the religious requirements in a Scouting unit chartered by a religious organization would be unlikely to succeed or even make much progress.”

The BSA’s 80-member national executive board is set to vote Monday (July 27) on whether to drop its ban on gay adult leaders. The outcome of the afternoon vote is expected Monday evening. Scout officials say religious groups — which make up some 70 percent of  chartered organizations — would still have the option to exclude gays even if the policy is adopted.

R. Chip Turner, national chairman of the BSA Religious Relationships Committee, said he hopes the memo will calm concerns that leaders of religious chartered Scout units may have.

“There’s always the fear of the unknown,” he said.

But opponents of a BSA policy change say church-based troops that reject gay adult leaders could face legal risks, especially after the recent Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is legal nationwide.

“What they’re not taking into account is the new frontier that we’re on, where judges are being social change agents,” said John Stemberger, chairman of Trail Life USA, which bills itself as a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts.

Trail Life issued its own eight-page legal memo, written by a former BSA lawyer who is now Trail Life’s general counsel.

“The church-chartered troop will likely be sued the moment it tries to revoke the membership of the homosexual member who wears his uniform to the Gay Pride Parade, revokes or denies membership to an adult who publicly gets married to someone of the same sex, or denies membership to the girl who believes she is actually a male,” the Trail Life memo reads.

Still, an Emory University legal expert thinks the BSA memo strikes the right legal balance.

“I think they’re taking good, bold steps for respecting the law of the land and the society that we live in while still retaining strong exemptions and accommodations for those who might feel differently for religious reasons,” said Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory’s law school.

“I think this is a very decent balancing act and a kind of balancing act that can be a model going forward.”

Courtesy: Religion News Service

Publication date: July 28, 2015