Scouts Face Shaky Financial Future
July 2000

Less than two weeks after the Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts of America could ban gays from its membership, gay rights activists have refocused their efforts and are urging companies and philanthropic organizations to pull sponsorships.

On June 28, the justices voted 5-4 in favor of the Boy Scouts, ruling that the First Amendment gives the organization absolute power to accept and reject members.

The legal battle between the Boy Scouts and former Eagle Scout James Dale, who was ousted from the organization in 1990 when leaders found out he was gay, began in 1992.

The new battle is already showing results. Some school districts, including San Francisco and Chicago, ended their support of the Scouts before the Supreme Court verdict was handed down. School support is vital in urban communities where neighborhoods are sometimes too dangerous to hold Boy Scouts meetings.

In addition, the Scouts have lost an undisclosed amount in financial support from corporations such as Levi Strauss & Co. Seven branches of the United Way have pulled sponsorship as well, including the United Way of Somerset County in New Jersey, which revoked its annual donation of $30,600 in May.

However, the Boy Scouts are not worried about potential losses in funding or membership, pointing out that membership has grown by 7 percent during the past three years, when the Dale case received heavy media coverage.

“Any money that has been lost has been more than made up by private supporters who are thrilled to see at least one major organization upholding what they see as traditional moral standards,” Patrick Reilly of the Capital Research Center, which gives donations to conservative causes, told the Associated Press.

About 60 percent of Boy Scout units are sponsored by churches such as the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches, which have taken firm stands against homosexuality.

But the social policy board of the United Methodist Church, which sponsors more than 420,000 scouts, condemned the Scout Oath and Law, which commands Scouts to be “morally straight,” as discriminatory.

Eric Ferrero of the American Civil Liberties Union said a cross-section of Americans immediately will begin showing their distaste for the Boy Scouts’ policies.

The 37 amicus briefs filed by groups such as the American Federation of Teachers, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and National Council of Jewish Women made up one of the most diverse coalitions to come before the Supreme Court on a gay rights case.

“Every major minority legal organization in this country signed onto the ACLU’s brief that was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in this case,” Ferrero said. “Americans are gradually becoming more aware of the connections between racism and homophobia.”

The Scouts’ policies differ from the views of many Americans, who have become increasingly tolerant during the past decade, Ferrero said.

“The Boy Scouts have succeeded in beginning to really marginalize themselves from the rest of the country’s position on this issue,” Ferrero said. “As that happens, they will undoubtedly run into trouble from corporate funders, individuals or governmental groups that provide funding or space.”