Boy Scouts Like It Both Ways

We don't expect much of our county supervisors—don't bankrupt the county, don't bang up the cars we lend you, don't sit at your desk pretending to work for less than 20 hours per week. But really: Are we asking too much when we ask that the supes be something better than stupid?

The question facing them last week was not "Are the Boy Scouts swell?"—though that was the question to which the supervisors and most public speakers addressed themselves. Nor, despite 2nd District Supervisor Jim Silva's disconnected soliloquy on the cost of docking a boat (between $6 and $8 per foot, he said), was the question about the virtues of sailing. Nor, despite 4th District Supervisor Cynthia Coad's autobiography, was there anything on the table regarding Girl Scouts, pen pals or Poland. The question wasn't even, as 3rd District Supe Todd Spitzer implied, whether the county risked an ACLU lawsuit in the matter at hand.

The question before the Board of Supervisors was: If the Constitution protects every American's right of free assembly, does it not also impose upon those same Americans the costs of their assembly?

Or to put it another way, if the Boy Scouts of America is a private organization that is allowed under the First Amendment to discriminate against gays, lesbians and agnostics, can the Boy Scouts of America also receive public subsidies?

The answer is clearly no. But the board, brushing aside all constitutional concerns in favor of pen pals, docking costs and general goodness, said yes.

And not just a whispered, marginal yes, but a full-throated, empty-headed, beer-bonged yes. On Sept. 26, the supervisors voted 5-0 to grant the Boy Scouts' Orange County Council a 30-year extension on their no-cost lease on prime beachfront property in Newport Beach.

The Orange County chapter runs a marine institute there called the Sea Scout Base and has done so—admirably, by all accounts—for more than 60 years. But just two months ago, the national Boy Scouts of America persuaded the Supreme Court they are a private organization, with all the First Amendment rights pertaining to a private organization—chiefly, the right "peaceably to assemble." The Boy Scouts would like peaceably to assemble with just about everyone except the aforementioned gays, lesbians and God-doubters.

Now, their representatives argue, they are also miraculously a public organization doing great work saving kids from the terror of the streets and the vapidity of malls. 5th District Supe Tom Wilson spoke for the board when he commended the group for its work on behalf of "all the youth of Orange County."

Pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in Boy Scouts vs. Dale, we are sure Wilson means almost all youth. Or pretty sure: on a Board of Supervisors widely acknowledged to be only marginally smarter than plants and animals, it is possible that Wilson and his colleagues don't know about Boy Scouts vs. Dale. It's very likely that Silva, a former high school civics teacher, doesn't know there's a Supreme Court.

The property in question is county-owned land bequeathed to the public by the late James Irvine. Through similar acts of largess with the public's land, local governments had given much of the rest of Irvine's gift to rich developers. Consider the nearby Balboa Bay Club and ask yourself: When was the last time you hung out there, contemplating Irvine's act of generosity over a plate of canapés?

The Boy Scouts want the best of both worlds: the right to bigotry granted private citizens under the First Amendment as well as access to generous public subsidies granted organizations whose behavior is governed by anti-discrimination statutes. They cannot have it both ways—except, apparently, in Orange County.

In 30 years, remind us to offer this insight: let the Boy Scouts buy their own Sea Scout Base. Let them run it according to their own best lights—banning homosexuals and the religiously dubious. But don't ask the county's residents to approve of such backwardness with a multimillion-dollar gift.

 
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