Calif. top court OKs city's move vs. Boy Scouts

Associated Press Mar. 10, 2006 12:00 AM

SAN FRANCISCO - The city of Berkeley can charge marina fees to youth sailors connected with the Boy Scouts of America in response to the Scouts' discriminatory policies, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The court unanimously rejected claims by the Berkeley Sea Scouts that the city violated the group's free speech and freedom of association rights by charging it berthing fees, which non-profit groups that comply with a 1997 non-discrimination law do not pay.

The Sea Scouts are a branch of the Boy Scouts that teaches sailing, carpentry and plumbing. City officials had told the group that it could retain its berthing subsidy if it broke ties with the Boy Scouts or disavowed the policy against gays and atheists, but the Sea Scouts refused.

The city revoked the group's subsidies in 1998 because the Boy Scouts bar atheist and gay members. It's one of several cases in which federal, state and local governments have distanced themselves from the Scouts.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts' membership policies are legal, but the state high court ruled that governments remain able to deny benefits to organizations that discriminate.

"What the California Supreme Court said was that private clubs can discriminate, but the taxpayers don't have to fund that discrimination," Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque said.

Scouts spokesman Bob Bork called the ruling "another in a continuing legal backlash against the Boy Scouts for asserting and winning its constitutional rights in the United States Supreme Court."

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