New California Legislation Would Remove Tax Breaks from the Boy Scouts for Discriminating Against Atheists

The Boy Scouts of America are still considering letting in gay members and leaders — but even if their rules change, they would still forbid atheists from joining their organization. Katherine Stewart said as much in a recent article:

… the questionnaire, like much of the coverage surrounding it, is silent about the role of religion in shaping the Boy Scout’s discriminatory policies in another area, one that is distinct from and yet intimately connected with its bigotry toward gay people.

Adult leaders in the Boy Scouts must sign a Declaration of Religious Principles, and Scouts must take an oath “to do my duty to God”. Both adults and children can and have been excluded from the organization for lack of belief in a supreme being (or beings).

Now, California lawmakers may punish any group that discriminates against LGBT individuals or atheists. Sen. Ricardo Lara recently introduced Senate Bill 323 and it’ll have its first committee hearing tomorrow:

Sen. Ricardo Lara

“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. “SB 323 seeks to end the unfortunate discriminatory and outdated practices by certain youth groups.”

it would require those organizations to pay corporate taxes on donations, membership dues, camp fees and other sources of income, and to obtain sellers permits and pay sales taxes on food, beverages and homemade items sold at fundraisers.

SB 323 would affect any discriminatory nonprofit youth group like the BSA:

An organization listed above shall not discriminate on the
basis of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, nationality,
religion, or religious affiliation
.

Any schools or churches that sponsor or host such organizations would not be punished.

As you might expect, the Christian Right is already painting this as a war against Christianity:

“SB 323′s primary purpose is to penalize BSA based on its constitutionally protected membership policy and the values that underlie it,” lawyers for the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom wrote in a letter to lawmakers last week. “This type of targeted punishment of a group based on how it exercises its associational and free speech rights violates the First Amendment.”

Punishment. They used the word punishment to describe a law that would only give tax breaks to non-discriminatory groups. That protects Christians as much as it does atheists, and straight people as much as gays and lesbians. But the ADF believes that bigoted groups deserve relief from California taxpayers.

It’s really a brilliant move on the part of Sen. Lara. The state legislators have no control over how the BSA operates — and they shouldn’t — but they have plenty of control over which groups gets taxed. By applying a standard of inclusion to all nonprofit youth organizations that want an exemption, Lara has found a way to force the BSA to change its ways or pay the standard price. (Not an excess price, mind you, but a standard price.)

If you live in the state, please ask your elected officials to support this bill as it goes through the legislative process. Let it be a model for other states. The BSA shouldn’t be rewarded for telling atheists and gay scouts they’re not allowed to be part of the group.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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