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Oregon Court Says BSA Can Recruit In Schools / Court Ignores The BSA Discriminates And Thereby Hurts All Children

Link to the court decision:

The Oregonian
Scouts can recruit in school

Public schools can allow the Boy Scouts to recruit students during school hours without violating the Oregon Constitution's requirement for separation of church and state, the state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Although the Boy Scouts require members to believe in God and aim to promote boys' spiritual growth, the organization is mainly social and recreational, not religious, the Oregon Court of Appeals found. The 41-page ruling does not settle whether Nancy Powell, a mother who is atheist, will win or lose her fight to stop Boy Scout recruiting in Portland schools.

The legal battle has raged for more than five years and will take at least another year to resolve.

A second Powell family lawsuit challenging the school recruitment on different grounds -- a state law forbidding discrimination in schools -- is pending before the Court of Appeals. A lower court judge ruled that Portland schools illegally discriminated against atheists by allowing scout recruitment.

Powell's lawyer also said she will appeal Tuesday's decision in the church-state case to the Oregon Supreme Court.

For now, Portland schools continue to allow Boy Scout recruiters into elementary schools to make their pitch in the cafeteria.

The school district has said it values the Scouts as a community organization that instills leadership, teamwork and character. Courts have never halted the practice in the six years Powell has been challenging it.

The Northeast Portland woman objects to school recruiting because the Boy Scouts only admit boys who believe in God. Her son, Remington, an atheist, was subjected to school-approved recruiting pitches from a group that rejects him based on his religious beliefs.

Powell started fighting the practice when Remington was a first-grader at Scott Elementary, where the Boy Scouts recruit during school hours every fall. He is now in seventh grade at Metropolitan Learning Center, which does not permit Scout recruiting. \

When Powell first complained, Portland school officials denied that the Boy Scouts require boys to affirm a belief in God. But top Boy Scout officials testified that is an essential element of scouting, and the Seattle Boy Scout council drew national
headlines last month for ejecting an Eagle Scout who stood by his atheist beliefs.

The unanimous three-judge Appeals Court decision, written by Judge Virginia Linder, said there is a legitimate secular reason for the school district to help the Boy Scouts recruit students -- "for the enrichment of both the students and the community
generally." The Scouts don't mention religion during the brief recruitment pitches, and parents who don't want their children to join the Boy Scouts can keep them from attending the membership meeting, the ruling says.

Jollee Patterson, general counsel for Portland schools, said, "It's a very thorough and well-written decision that reinforces that by permitting the Boy Scouts and other community groups to provide information to our students, we are not . . . promoting religion in the schools."

Andrea Meyer, attorney for the Powells, said that she thinks odds are good the state Supreme Court will accept her appeal.

The appeals court decision "says outright that this is ripe for review by Oregon Supreme Court," she said.

A fundamental legal standard the appeals court used stems from a 26-year-old case, referred to as Eugene Sand &Gravel, in which Oregon's Supreme Court said it was legal for the city of Eugene to display a large cross on public land -- something the federal courts later ruled unconstitutional, Meyer said.

Judge Linder wrote in her decision: "The Supreme Court . . . has expressed its willingness to re-examine its holdings in prior cases. . . . But the fact that the Supreme Court is free to revisit its own precedents on that basis does not mean that we may do so. . . . The Supreme Court has never overruled Eugene Sand & Gravel. Because it has not done so, that case remains
binding on this court."

Powell was angry at the court ruling.

"This is academic mumbo-jumbo," she said. "There is no place in our schools for discrimination. When you're 6 years old, you should not be exposed to discrimination by groups that come in to your school."

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