In a pair of unanimous decisions, the court said the Scouts are not a business and therefore are free, like any private club, to set their own membership policies.
The ruling contrasts with a March 2 decision by an appellate court in New Jersey that said the Boy Scouts and their local councils were "places of accommodation" with open membership and were covered by the state's civil rights law. That ruling, in favor of a gay scoutmaster, was the first by any appellate court in the nation to strike down the Scouts' anti-gay policy.
In California, one ruling upheld a decision by a Contra Costa County Scout organization in 1981 to reject an 18-year-old former Eagle Scout as an assistant scoutmaster after learning he was homosexual. The other ruling involved 9-year-old twin brothers who were barred by an Orange County Cub Scout den in 1990, after they refused to declare a belief in God.
The twins, Michael and William Randall, were allowed into the Scouts by lower-court rulings and recently qualified to become Eagle Scouts, Scouting's highest honor. They and their father, James G. Randall, who is also their lawyer, say the boys are agnostics who haven't yet worked out their religious beliefs.
Both Randall and lawyers for Timothy Curran, who was rejected as a scout leader because he is a homosexual, sued under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act. That law forbids discrimination by business establishments on various grounds, including sexual orientation and religion.
The court has previously ruled that the organizationsÂ—then known as boys' clubsÂ—were business establishments, because their facilities were open to any boy. A private golf club was also a business establishment, because it did business extensively with members of the public. But the justices said today that the Boy Scouts are a private, selective organizationÂ—not a business.
"Scouts meet regularly in small groups [often in private homes] that are intended to foster close friendship, trust, and loyalty," said Chief Justice Ronald George, in the ruling.
"The Boy Scouts is an expressive social organization whose primary function is the inculcation of values in its youth members."
Although the Scouts sell goods to members of the public, George said, "non-members cannot purchase entry to pack or troop meetings, overnight hikes, the national jamboree, or any portion of the Boy Scouts' extended training and educational process."
By Bob Egelko ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed