Legal Group Pledges Defense of Pro-Boy Scout Judges

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - A California legal group has pledged to defend judges who oppose a recent decision by the San Francisco Superior Court to prohibit its members from associating with organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America.

The Superior Court judges and commissioners recently adopted a policy that prohibits participation in any organization that "discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation by excluding members on the grounds that their sexual orientation renders them 'unclean,' 'immoral' or 'unfit.'"

Brad Dacus, an attorney and president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a legal organization specializing in religious freedom and parental rights, said the new policy could easily be extended to bar from the courts judges who are active in religious organizations, including their church.

"If you have a judge who's a deacon in a church, or possibly just a member in a church, then he could have to choose between attending church and being a judge," Dacus said.

"No citizen should ever have to choose between being able to practice their faith and their job in public service, and that is exactly what this intolerant policy intends to do," he added.

The July 11 decision made San Francisco's judges the first in the state to cut ties with the Boy Scouts because of that organization's policy not to allow homosexuals to be scout leaders.

Angela Bradstreet, president of the Bar Association of San Francisco and a proponent of the move, defended the decision.

The same principle that prohibits a judge from being a member of an organization that excludes women or minorities also applies to an organization that excludes homosexuals, Bradstreet said.

"The whole point of the judicial code of conduct, the whole point of judicial ethics is that all litigants should appear in front of a judge on a totally equal playing field, and anything which tips the balance, or appears to tip the balance, even slightly toward one litigant or another is considered inappropriate for a judge," she said.

"This has nothing to do with the constitutional right of freedom of association," she added. "It is very narrowly tailored toward judges and is consistent with prior judicial rules."

Bradstreet said she hoped to take the measure statewide.

Statewide ethical standards for judges, adopted by the state Supreme Court in 1995, forbid membership in organizations that discriminate against homosexuals but exempt "nonprofit youth organizations," an exemption designed for the Boy Scouts.

The state court refused to repeal the exemption in December 2000 despite a plea from an appeals court justice who protested a Supreme Court ruling upholding the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding homosexuals as scout leaders.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the scouts by a 5 - 4 vote in June 2000, saying that forcing the scouts to accept homosexuals would violate their constitutional right of freedom of association and free speech under the First Amendment.

Gregg Shields, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, called the San Francisco Superior Court's decision "unfortunate."

"But one important thing to remember about the Boy Scouts is that we respect everyone's right to belong to the Boy Scouts, or not to belong," Shields said.

"We wouldn't presume to instruct the judges on their rights, whether or not their rights are being infringed by the Bar Association in this move - that's up to the judges to decide - but we have tolerance for other people's decisions in these kinds of matters," he said.

Dacus insisted there was widespread concern in the state about the new policy.

"I have talked to judges who have expressed their serious concern that the policy may be adopted eventually in their superior court, and they may have to choose between being able to attend their church and keeping their job as a judge," he said.

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