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California's top court limits judges' membership in Boy Scouts

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - California judges who are members of the Boy Scouts of America may have to disqualify themselves from hearing cases involving homosexual discrimination, the state Supreme Court announced Thursday.

But the state's top court, which sets rules for California's 2,000-member judiciary, did not bar judges from being members of the Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts, as several local bar associations requested.

California judicial canons already demand that judges divest themselves from groups that discriminate against women and

Rules adopted eight years ago forbade judges from being members in organizations that discriminated against lesbians and gays, but they allow membership in "nonprofit youth organizations" - an exception carved out for the Boy Scouts.The issue surfaced three years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts' policy against homosexuals. The scouts argued that their code, requiring members to be "morally straight" and "clean," excluded homosexuals. The court said the scouts were entitled
to define their own principles.

"What the California Supreme Court appears to be saying is that a judge who is a member of the Boy Scouts may have to
disqualify himself in appropriate cases," said Angela Bradstreet, the former San Francisco Bar Association president who urged the Supreme Court to alter its rules.

Judges would either have to step down or notify litigants in cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace against gays, and "any case involving gay adoptions or cases in which the sexuality of the litigant is an issue," Bradstreet said.

Beth Jay, Chief Justice Ronald George's chief attorney, said the high court's decision was a compromise for those wanting a ban while protecting judges' right to practice religion given that many scouting programs are run through religious organizations.

"The court was paying careful attention, both to those who were making the request for change and for those for whom
participation in the scouts is an important value for religious, or other reasons, and tried to strike a balance between those interests," Jay said.

Gregg Shields, the scouts' spokesman, said the organization was not immediately prepared to comment. But he said the original proposal to ban scout membership by judges "would be inappropriate and unconstitutional."

"We have a First Amendment right to our membership standards," he said.According to the amended code of conduct, even when a judge might not think scout membership is grounds for disqualification, a "judge should disclose the membership to the parties or their lawyers if the judge believes they may consider it relevant to the question of disqualification."---

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