2016-07-27
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 from leadership posts, the nation's Reform Jewish movement has called on Jewish families and synagogues to sever all ties with the organization.

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

Rabbi Dan Polish, director of the Joint Commission, said the issue was "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 Reform movement has embraced," Polish said.

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

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

There are 3 million Boy Scouts in the United States. An estimated 7,100 of them are sponsored by Jewish congregations.

Since the court's decision, there has been a slow exodus of high-profile financial support, including Chase Manhattan Bank and about 20 United Way chapters. Several large school districts--including New York and San Diego--have said they would no longer sponsor Scout troops.

Religious communities were divided by the ruling, with evangelicals applauding the court's ruling and liberal groups, such as the Unitarian Universalists and Episcopalians, denouncing it.

In July, the executive vice president of Reform Judaism's Central Conference of American Rabbis, Paul Menitoff, returned his Eagle Scout badge, saying the Scouts' policy was "an affront to the principles upon which our great country stands."

Polish's memo is the strongest action taken to date, even though is it only advisory and not mandatory. Polish also included tips for families and congregations who do not want to cut all ties but are against the policy--such as writing letters or amending local Scout charters.

"While we maintain our hope that the Boy Scouts of America will abandon its discriminatory policies, its lack of response to the many expressions of disagreement and disappointment with the policies gives us little basis for optimism," Polish wrote.

Gregg Shields, a Boy Scouts spokesman, said his organization continues to enjoy "tremendous" support from other religious groups who have chartered scout troops, including Orthodox Jewish congregations.

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

Evan Wolfson, the attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense Fund who argued the Supreme Court case on behalf of New Jersey scout leader James Dale, said the move reflects a growing discomfort among private groups with the Scouts' "discriminatory" practices.

"We said on the day we lost at the Supreme Court that this is what was going to happen," Wolfson said. "And we believe that the stronger and swifter people speak out, the sooner this discriminatory membership policy will come to an end."


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