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The BSA Gets Away With Its Bigotry

Comments from sender: It looks to me like the arguments raised here could be used against the BSA. Even if BSA is only forced to be reasonable in Washington, it could be the start of a state by state change. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles find any grounds for the US Supreme Court to overrule state law. How can the BSA be ruled as a private organization and not the Rotary, Jaycees, Lions, Kiwanis or Elks? They all were told they could not discriminate against women because they were not a private organization. How does the BSA get away with being seen as a private organization by the US Supreme court and
the California Supreme Court, while the New Jersey Supreme court ruled the BSA was a public Accommodation and could not discriminate?

Court tells Eagles to let women join club
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By Stuart Eskenazi
Seattle Times staff reporter

The state's high court ruled yesterday that women no longer can be excluded from becoming full-fledged members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. But that doesn't necessarily mean women suddenly will be joining in droves.

Many women, including wives and widows of members, already participate in the Eagles through auxiliaries that support the male-dominated aeries, or local chapters. Auxiliaries elect their own officers, but the women cannot vote on aerie policies because they are not members.

"I wouldn't want to join the aerie," said Faye Barnett, past president of the auxiliary to Seattle Aerie No. 1 in Georgetown and the chapter's paid bookkeeper. "I prefer to have a separate women's club and men's club. Fraternal means men, and you have to accept them for what they are. Men rule."

In its 7-2 decision, the court ruled that the Eagles club must follow state anti-discrimination law because it is not a "distinctly private" organization, one of two exemptions allowed under the statute.

Justice Charles Z. Smith wrote that the court majority agreed with a lower court's assessment that the Eagles is not a selective social club. He cited the Eagles' own literature that asks members to undertake benevolent projects within the community and to promote an expanding membership.

Supporters of the lawsuit that challenged the Eagles' national policy of excluding women say broadening the Eagles' membership will strengthen local chapters and help sustain the charitable work they do in communities. Fraternal organizations such as the Eagles have suffered over the years from declining membership the result of attrition and an inability to attract younger members. Still, an estimated 66,000 members are active within 106 Eagles aeries in Washington.

"Many women believe that since they work hard for the organization, they should be allowed to vote on things like how much the chapter should give to certain charities or whether to keep the clubhouse open past 11 on Friday nights," said Rosemary Daszkiewicz, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "Women's participation should be more than just being allowed in the door and to go to the parties. They should have real responsibilities for planning and leading the organizations."

The lawsuit was filed in 1999 on behalf of Tenino Aerie No. 564, nine of its female members and a separate Whidbey Island aerie. Women were able to join the Eagles in 1995 after the national organization ruled that the Eagles' male-only policy violated gender-discrimination law. The national organization withdrew that opinion, however, in 1998.

Alice Vassar joined the Tenino aerie during that three-year window. A plaintiff in the lawsuit, she is now its president.

"Some of the elders in our aerie didn't go for the lawsuit," said Vassar, an auxiliary member for 20 years before joining the aerie, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in February 2004. "Some transferred and we became divided. But our aerie is now getting stronger, and women have contributed a lot to make it so."

Yesterday's State Supreme Court opinion affirms a January 2000 Thurston County Superior Court decision, which had been reversed in August 2001 by the state Court of Appeals.

John Widell, the Seattle-based attorney for the national Grand Aerie of the Eagles, said his client may appeal yesterday's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, if only to seek uniformity on conflicting state laws that govern Eagles' membership.

In order to become a member of an Eagles aerie, two current members have to sponsor the nomination. Yesterday's ruling does not specifically address that membership practice, which may mean that aeries could keep women out if their members conspire to never nominate them.

"It will be interesting to see how it plays out," Widell said. "How far is the government willing to intrude in the internal policies of the Eagles to ensure integration?"

Daszkiewicz said that if individual aeries do not begin admitting women, they risk being sued.

"The culture of the Eagles has long been about rewarding those who help grow the membership," she said. "While some aeries may have an 'over my dead body' attitude about admitting women, my hunch is a lot of members will be good citizens and want to follow the law of this state."

After U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the 1980s required Rotary and Jaycee clubs to admit women, other fraternal organizations, including the Lions, Kiwanis and Elks, followed suit.

Vanessa Power, board president of the Northwest Women's Law Center, said she hopes organizations that characterize themselves as "distinctly private" will consider yesterday's court ruling and reassess their position.

"It is time for all organizations to look at the greater good of equality," she said.

Widell said he believes that yesterday's opinion requires the Eagles and other nonprivate social organizations to also admit atheists and agnostics. Belief in God is a current prerequisite for Eagles' membership. The opinion also means men must be admitted into women's auxiliaries, he said.

Mike Lagervall, manager of the Ballard Eagles Aerie No. 172, said his chapter has about 1,000 members, and its women's auxiliary boasts more than that. But no women have ever expressed an interest in crossing over, he said.

"If we have to admit them, we will admit them," he said. "But my sense is the auxiliary enjoys its independence and wants to keep its autonomy."

Vassar of the Tenino aerie said membership meant a lot to her because it allowed her to "speak for myself instead of relaying my opinions through my husband."

"The way I feel about it is that it should be the woman's choice," she said. "If she wants to be an auxiliary member and that's it, that's fine. But I felt like I needed to belong."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or (

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