News (USA)

Calif. tax bill seeks to punish Boy Scouts for anti-gay ban

SAN FRANCISCO — California lawmakers are considering taking some tax exemptions away from youth groups that do not accept gay, transgender or atheist members – a move intended to pressure the Boy Scouts of America to lift its ban on gay Scouts and troop leaders.

Some cities have withdrawn free rent and other subsidies from the Boy Scouts over the years, but legislation introduced by Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara would make California the first U.S. state to target the Scouts for its anti-gay policy.

The bill is scheduled for its first committee hearing Wednesday.

Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, told The Associated Press the organization was preparing a response to the proposal.

The legislation would deny tax-exempt status to nonprofit youth groups that discriminate on the basis of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or religious affiliation.

As a result, it would requ ire those organizations to pay corporate taxes on donations, membership dues, camp fees and other sources of income, and to obtain sellers permits and pay sales taxes on food, beverages and homemade items sold at fundraisers.

Churches that sponsor Boy Scouts troops would not lose their underlying tax-exempt status, but an array of nonprofits, ranging from the Young Men’s Christian Association and Pop Warner football to the American Youth Soccer Association and 4-H clubs would have their tax returns and membership policies scrutinized by the state Franchise Tax Board if the bill becomes law, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Also known as the Youth Equality Act, the bill requires a two-thirds vote from both houses of the Legislature and the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown to become law.

Legal aid groups that represent religious conservatives have cautioned that the measure conflicts with a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of private groups such as the Boy Scouts to exclude gays and lesbians from serving as adult leaders.

Lawyers for the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom wrote in a letter to lawmakers last week, “This type of targeted punishment of a group, based on how it exercises its associational and free speech rights, violates the First Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office, however, has assured the Legislature it has authority to decide which organizations qualify for tax breaks.

An analysis of the bill points to a 2006 ruling in which the California Supreme Court said the city of Berkeley, California, could end its half-century-old practice of giving a nautical-themed offshoot of the Boy Scouts free rent at the city marina because of its gay ban.

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