Beliefnet
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 (RNS)--In the strongest reaction by a religious group to the U.S.Supreme Court's ruling allowing the Boy Scouts to ban homosexuals fromleadership posts, the nation's Reform Jewish movement has called onJewish families and synagogues to sever all ties with the organization.

In a Jan. 5 memo to congregations, the Joint Commission on SocialAction of the movement's congregational and rabbinical arms called theScouts' policy "incompatible with our consistent belief that everyindividual regardless of his or her sexual orientation is created inthe image of God and deserving of equal treatment."

Rabbi Dan Polish, director of the Joint Commission, said the issuewas "crystal clear" and the policy, if applied to blacks or Jews,would amount to "blatant discrimination."

"This policy is at such clear odds with the values that the Reformmovement has embraced," Polish said.

Last June, the high court ruled 5-4 that the Scouts, as a privateorganization, have a right to set their own membership rules and theirban on gay scout leaders does not equal discrimination. The Scoutsmaintain it is impossible to be both homosexual and "morallystraight."

When the case went to the Supreme Court, Reform Judaism's publicpolicy wing--which represents about 40 percent of the country's 6million Jews--filed an amicus brief opposing the policy.

There are 3 million Boy Scouts in the United States. An estimated7,100 of them are sponsored by Jewish congregations.

Since the court's decision, there has been a slow exodus ofhigh-profile financial support, including Chase Manhattan Bank and about20 United Way chapters. Several large school districts--including NewYork and San Diego--have said they would no longer sponsor Scouttroops.

Religious communities were divided by the ruling, with evangelicalsapplauding the court's ruling and liberal groups, such as the UnitarianUniversalists and Episcopalians, denouncing it.

In July, the executive vice president of Reform Judaism's CentralConference of American Rabbis, Paul Menitoff, returned his Eagle Scoutbadge, saying the Scouts' policy was "an affront to the principles uponwhich our great country stands."

Polish's memo is the strongest action taken to date, even though isit only advisory and not mandatory. Polish also included tips forfamilies and congregations who do not want to cut all ties but areagainst the policy--such as writing letters or amending local Scoutcharters.

"While we maintain our hope that the Boy Scouts of America willabandon its discriminatory policies, its lack of response to the manyexpressions of disagreement and disappointment with the policies givesus little basis for optimism," Polish wrote.

Gregg Shields, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said his organizationcontinues to enjoy "tremendous" support from other religious groupswho have chartered scout troops, including Orthodox Jewishcongregations.

"Although we regret this decision, our doors remain open to allunits that would like to continue chartering troops and dens with theBoy Scouts of America," Shields said.

Evan Wolfson, the attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense Fund whoargued the Supreme Court case on behalf of New Jersey scout leader JamesDale, said the move reflects a growing discomfort among private groupswith the Scouts' "discriminatory" practices.

"We said on the day we lost at the Supreme Court that this is whatwas going to happen," Wolfson said. "And we believe that the strongerand swifter people speak out, the sooner this discriminatory membershippolicy will come to an end."

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus