SAN LUIS OBISPO - The ACLU of Southern California and the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the ACLU sent letters today to the County of San Luis Obispo and City of Atascadero challenging the legality and fairness of subsidizing the activities of the Boy Scouts of America by offering them "sweetheart deals" on rent of government lands, facilities and buildings.
"Our letters ask the county and the city of Atascadero to stop subsidizing discrimination by giving rent-free leases to the Boy Scouts," said Martha Matthews, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. "As the Los Padres Council's recent firing of Leonard Lanzi shows, the Boy Scouts of America has abandoned the values it used to stand for -- honesty, fairness, and respect for diversity -- in favor of bias and exclusion."
"The County and the City should follow the lead of the City of San Luis Obispo, which stopped giving the Boy Scouts free use of a public building last year, after community protests," said Hank Alberts, president of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of the ACLU.
The national leadership of the Boy Scouts of America recently went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm their right to be a "private expressive association," with discriminatory membership policies that exclude gay persons and religious non-believers.
"It's unlawful for cities and counties to subsidize the Boy Scouts' activities through rent-free leases of valuable public property," said Matthews. "Such leases violate the California and federal constitutions' guarantees of equal protection and freedom of religion, and would also be vulnerable to a taxpayer suit for waste of public resources. Last fall, the ACLU sued the City of San Diego over a similar lease of public parkland to the Boy Scouts for $1 per year."
The ACLU argues that the government should not subsidize organizations that exclude some youth and families - those who are religious non-believers, gay or lesbian, and also those who do not want their children to participate in an organization that teaches religious intolerance and homophobia.
"The most effective way for the County and the City to sever their ties with the Boy Scouts would be to enact local non-discrimination ordinances that cover sexual orientation," said Matthews. "Both leases have clauses saying that the Boy Scouts must comply with all local laws or the leases can be immediately terminated."