Scout oath case to go to California high court Refusal to admit gay man also to be considered

December 25, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

ANAHEIM HILLS, Calif. -- At a tender age, fraternal twins William and Michael Randall believed in the tooth fairy, in Santa Claus and even the Easter Bunny -- but not in God.

After all, the other characters brought Christmas presents, chocolate eggs and money for teeth. If there was a God, they asked, where were the goodies to prove it?

The twins' refusal to recite that part of the Boy Scout oath acknowledging a duty to God, and their subsequent expulsion from their Cub Scout pack, sparked a nationwide controversy in 1991.

An appeals court in Santa Ana sided with a superior court judge who had ordered the Boy Scouts to readmit the twins, declaring that the youth organization violated California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of religion.

Because other appeals courts have ruled differently -- that the Boy Scouts should not be considered a business establishment subject to the Unruh Act -- the California Supreme Court has decided to resolve the issue.

On Jan. 5, state Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments in two cases -- that of the Randalls and another involving a Los Angeles Scout who was barred from adult membership because he is gay.

The Supreme Court will be weighing the contradictory rulings in the two cases just when the Randalls are expected to be considered for Eagle Scout badges, Scouting's highest rank and the 16-year-old twins' ultimate goal.

If the justices eventually rule for them, the brothers say their six-year legal battle with the Boy Scouts would have been worth it. If they lose, the boys would be crushed, their parents say.

"A loss would be devastating," said James Grafton Randall, the twins' father and attorney.

Attorneys for the Boy Scouts say that having the twins in the Boy Scouts violates the organization's First Amendment right to freedom of association.

"This case deals with a core Scouting value," George Davidson, a New York attorney for the Boy Scouts, said last week. "It's simple. The Boy Scouts ask people to accept a requirement of undertaking a duty to God. If they won't do that, they can't be Boy Scouts."

Davidson said a Supreme Court decision, expected by the end of March, will affect "a vast number of associations [that serve] a defined segment of the population, be it the aged, the young or people of a specific religious belief, nationality, sex, ethnic descent or sexual preference."

The Boy Scouts are receiving support from an unlikely source: California Attorney General Daniel E. Lungren, the state's top hTC civil rights enforcer. In a legal brief, Lungren urged the court to rule in favor of the Scouting organization and against the Anaheim twins.

The Unruh Act "cannot restrict the right of private groups from expressing their own ideas," Lungren said, "and it cannot be used to force them to alter the content of those beliefs by including those who do not share them."

The boys and their parents disagree. They say they cannot disrupt the Boy Scouts' operation simply by refusing to say the word God.

The twins' refusal to pledge allegiance to deities began when they were only 6 years old, and members of a Cub Scout den in Culver City on the west side of Los Angeles.

Without telling their parents, the twins would lip-sync through the line that mentioned God, when they were asked to recite the Scouts' oath, just as they would omit the words "under God" when they were asked to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

After they moved to Anaheim Hills in 1990, a den mother grew suspicious about the boys' lack of religion and told the twins that they could not advance in rank if they didn't profess a belief in God.

When the twins defiantly refused to say God, Boy Scouts officials suggested that the matter could be overlooked if the parents would simply sign a document saying their sons had completed the Scouts' religious requirement, according to James Randall.

When they refused to allow that to happen, the twins were told that they could not be Cub Scouts, prompting a lawsuit by their father.

In 1992, Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard O. Frazee Sr. ruled that the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits a business establishment from discriminating on the basis of religion, applied in the Randalls' case. He reasoned that the organization was a business, because it sold scouting paraphernalia through stores operated for that purpose. Frazee's decision was later upheld by the 4th District Court of Appeals in Santa Ana.

Attorneys for the Boy Scouts filed an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that forcing the Boy Scouts to admit nonbelievers would cause religious groups to drop their support of Scouting -- something that would be particularly harmful in Orange County, where half of Scouting groups are sponsored by religious organizations.

Pub Date: 12/25/97

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