Activists react to bill to revoke Scouts’ tax breaks

A new California bill that would end tax breaks for youth groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation, including the Boy Scouts of America, is stirring both grassroots support and opposition.

Some California organizations, defined in a similar way to non-profit organizations under federal law, get exemptions from state corporate taxes and taxes on items they sell, such as the popcorn Scouts often sell to raise funds. SB 323 by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, would end this exemption for youth groups that discriminate by treating their sales to the same extent as any other retailers; it also would require organizations with discriminatory policies to pay corporate taxes on donations and other forms of income.

BSA“Our state values the important role that youth groups play in the empowerment of our next generation; this is demonstrated by rewarding organizations with tax exemptions supported financially by all Californians,” Lara said Tuesday in a news release announcing the bill. “SB 323 seeks to end the unfortunate discriminatory and outdated practices by certain youth groups by revoking their tax exemption privilege should they not comply with our non-discrimination laws.”

An online petition launched by an activist and former Boy Scout to urge this bill’s passage already has more than 8,300 signatures. Petitioner Eddie Kurtz, who works with the Courage Campaign, said he joined as a Cub Scout and finished at the rank of Life Scout, one short of the Eagle Scout award.

“Scouting stands for the finest qualities of humanity: self-reliance, creativity, and an appreciation of nature. Most of all, we were taught how to act as responsible, respectful citizens,” Kurtz said in a news release Thursday. “This is why the Boy Scouts’ continued policy of excluding members based on their sexual orientation is so upsetting to me. It flies in the face of the very values that the scouting tradition professes to teach. As a straight ally, I can’t sit idle while the current leaders of the Boy Scouts disgrace this once-proud American institution with their personal bigotry.”

But the conservative Pacific Justice Institute will be working to oppose the bill; the group’s website refers to SB 323 as “forced lifestyle acceptance.”

“From the plain text of this bill, it is clear to us that SB 323 is one of the most outrageous bills we have seen in California — and that’s saying a lot,” PJI President Brad Dacus said in a news release Thursday. “We have been warning for years that the gay lobby would eventually use tax exemptions to force non-profits to capitulate to their demands, but it’s still shocking to see it actually in print and on its way to becoming law.”

Because SB 323 would essentially raise taxes on some organizations, it will require a 2/3 vote in each legislative chamber in order to pass – a majority Democrats attained in last November’s election.

The Boy Scouts of America’s executive board this month delayed a decision on whether to change its long-standing policy of excluding LGBT youths and adults; the organization’s full national council is expected to revisit the issue in May.

(Full disclosure: I’m an Eagle Scout, and a registered committee member in my son’s troop.)

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR senile columnist

    Does this mean a big, lumbering transsexual gets to shower with our precious little Brownies?

  • Josh Richman

    Current BSA youth-protection policies preclude any adult leader from being in that situation with youths, or from being alone with any youth (except that leader’s own son) at any time.

  • JohnW

    Kudos, Josh, for being an Eagle Scout and for your continuing involvement. My dad, born 1912, was one of the early Eagles. My brother-in-law and nephew are Eagles too. Me, I got just enough rank and merit badges to be eligible to attend the Jamboree and dropped out after going.

    I disapprove of their policy on gays, but I doubt that denying tax-exempt status based on what is essentially a religion-based policy would survive a court challenge. To my knowledge, there was no stated policy on homosexuality when I was in scouting. So, I wonder what the history of the current ban is. When was it established? Obviously, there have always been gays in Scouting, so the policy is like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Look at what denying Moraga resident, Ryan Andresen’s Eagle Badge, for his anti bullying tile project, has stirred up.
    I wonder if I am the only person who finds a link between bullied youths & them becoming murderers?

  • Josh Richman

    @3: BSA’s first official position statement on this came in 1991: “We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.” But BSA was rejecting applications from adults known to be gay for at least a decade before that.

  • JohnW


    Interesting. Thanks, Josh.

  • JohnW

    A letter to the editor in today’s CC Times from a 14-year-old Boy Scout advocates that people be allowed to grow medicinal marijuana outdoors at home. Hmmm! Maybe that could be project for a Plant Science or Medicine merit badge. Morally straight but high!

  • Josh Richman

    Hah. Seriously, though, I’d guess the letter was for the Communications merit badge (one the badges required for Eagle), which includes a requirement that the Scout “write to the editor of a magazine or your local newspaper to express your opinion or share information on any subject you choose.”

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    A quote from Scott Dyleski. ” I’m not surprised – from my own experience with the Boy Scouts, I learned first hand that bigotry is their lifeblood. It’s to bad, because “Scouting” itself is a great idea.”
    Scott says he read about Ryan Andresen’s project in UU World. Scott would post this himself, but he is not allowed computer access.

  • RR senile columnist

    Since Scott Dyleski has been quoted, let me add a comment attributed to inmate C. Manson: “I don’t give a monkey’s ####.”

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Charlie Manson. Now there is a person I’d like to talk with. I wonder if he was a Boy Scout too? Or was he merely a bigot? He does have a swastika tattooed on his face. I talked to Scott Dyleski in person in May 2012. It’s a mystery how such a caring, intelligent person like him, ended up teaching @ Salinas Valley State.

  • For Liberty

    Again, another article which reveals a threat to our liberty.