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SAN FRANCISCO, CA, January 26, 2015 ( — The California Supreme Court has decreed that no state judge may belong to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), claiming that their long-held ban on openly homosexual adult scout leaders is discriminatory.

The unanimous decision ends an 18-year exception to a 1996 rule banning state judges from belonging to groups that discriminate based on sexual preference.  At the time that rule was passed, exceptions were made for nonprofit youth organizations, religious organizations, and military organizations.  Now, the only exception left is for religious groups.

“The only remaining exception to the general rule is membership in a religious organization,” said Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Richard D. Fybel, chair of the Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on the Code of Judicial Ethics, which recommended the rule change early last year.  “[The] exception belonging to a military organization was eliminated as well, because the U.S. armed forces no longer restrict military service based on sexual orientation.”

The ethics committee argued that barring state judges from participating in groups like the BSA would inspire public confidence in their impartiality and “promote the integrity of the judiciary.”

But Barbara Kronlund, a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge and the mother of a boy scout, told the committee in a letter that the ruling would lead to the “infringement of my right to free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.”

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A group of 104 attorneys also weighed in against the rule change, arguing that it would result in “wide-ranging and deleterious implications” for many youth organizations.

“The proposal creates an unconstitutional test for public office, threatens the constitutional rights of California judges, and states unabashedly that it is designed to punish the Boy Scouts of America by prohibiting California judges from participating in that group's activities,” the attorneys stated in a 10-page letter.

Even judges who support the rule change in principle question whether it was really necessary. 

“I'm not convinced that the public is worried that judges will treat them unfairly because they are involved in the Boy Scouts,” said Julia Kelety, a San Diego county judge and a committee chair for Boy Scout Troop 24, where her two teenage sons are working toward becoming Eagle Scouts.

“I do wonder if other than a political angle, anyone has complained about a judge on a case because of an involvement in Boy Scouts,” Kelety told the Los Angeles Times.

Judges in California have until January 21, 2016 to comply with the new policy.


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