An Agnostic Can Be Booted from Boy Scouts, Court Says

The Supreme Court this week let stand a lower court decision allowing the Boy Scouts of America to exclude applicants who claim to be agnostic.

Most Jewish groups have yet to take sides on the issue, which pits the right to associate with whom one pleases against the ban on discrimination.

Monday’s ruling came in the case of a 10-year-old Illinois boy who would not recite the traditional Boy Scouts’ oath.

The oath reads: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the scout law.”

Both the boy and his father were reported to be agnostic.

Mainstream Jewish groups said they were closely watching this case and others like it.

If the Boy Scouts may legally exclude agnostics, the group “could have the legal right to exclude Jews as well if it wanted to,” said Marc Stern, co-director of legal affairs for the American Jewish Congress.

Stern noted that a case such as this involving an organization’s right to exclude certain people has definite implications for Jewish groups, synagogues and day schools.

The National Jewish Committee on Scouting of the Boy Scouts of America has sided in favor of the boy’s exclusion, arguing that the oath should continue to include the reference to God.

At the heart of the case was a federal law prohibiting privately owned places that serve the public from discriminating on the basis of race or religion, according to Stern.

The appellate court decided that the Boy Scouts organization was not considered a “place” and thus was not governed by the statute.

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