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Illustration by NHM

Illustration by NHM

Should discrimination be rewarded? That’s the question that’s been on our minds since the Boy Scouts of America announced that they would not consider lifting the gay ban until at least this summer. It begs a very important question: How does a tax-exempt organization stay tax-exempt if it espouses hate, endorses discrimination or gets overtly political? While the BSA, a private organization, has the support of the Supreme Court for its right to essentially discriminate, in doing so, does that mean they should be able to maintain their tax-free status?

In California, an ex-scout has launched a petition that urges legislators to end tax breaks for groups like the BSA that discriminate against the LGBT community. In fact, a bill (SB 323) – introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara – is being considered in the state now that would take away tax exemption from any group or organization that discriminates against sexual orientation.

“I grew up in the Boy Scout tradition. I started out as a Cub Scout, transitioned through Webelos, and ended my Boy Scout journey as a Life Scout, one rank below Eagle. My closest friends were other scouts. Scouting stands for the finest qualities of humanity: self-reliance, creativity, and an appreciation of nature. Most of all, we were taught how to act as responsible, respectful citizens,” says Eddie Kurtz, the former scout who launched the petition, which is approaching 10,000 signatures. “This is why the Boy Scouts’ continued policy of excluding members based on their sexual orientation is so upsetting to me. It flies in the face of the very values that the scouting tradition professes to teach. As a straight ally, I can’t sit idle while the current leaders of the Boy Scouts disgrace this once-proud American institution with their personal bigotry.”

If California passes the law, it could impact the BSA across the country – even in Philadelphia where the relationship between the scouts and the city has been more than a little bit contentious over the gay ban and the fact that the Philly chapter still resides on city-owned property.

The BSA has also come under fire after banning several gay moms and dads from serving in their children’s troops. We can only hope that as more scouts like Kurtz (who is admittedly straight) come out in support of LGBT members, legislators will begin to see that this kind of discrimination is not a form of free speech – it’s just plain bigotry. And it could have just as many ramifications for churches that preach politics from the pulpit and other groups that have enjoyed a free ride – until now.

What do you think: Should groups that discriminate be entitled to tax exemption?

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