California Lawmakers Consider Ending Tax Exempt Status of Boy Scouts

California legislators are preparing to vote on a bill that if passed could end the tax exempt status of the Boy Scouts and other youth groups.

The bill, SB 323, is focused on the membership policies of nonprofit youth groups.  The bill would remove the tax-exempt status from such youth groups where it is found that the organization’s membership policies are based on “gender identity, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or religious affiliation.”

The bill, introduced by Democratic state Senator Ricardo Lara, specifically names over 20 organizations, as examples with the type of membership policies that could be evaluated under the bill.  Those organizations include the Boys Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of the USA, and Little League International Baseball and Softball.

Although the Boy Scouts currently allows gay members, the organization has a ban on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender adult leaders from their organization.  Previously the Boys Scouts had a ban on gay members as well, but that policy was changed recently.

According to Lara, the change in policy by the Boy Scouts was not enough, which is why he sponsored SB 323 that was first proposed in February.

“Our state values the important role that youth groups play in the empowerment of our next generation; this is demonstrated by rewarding organizations with tax exemptions supported financially by all Californians,” Lara noted.  “SB 323 seeks to end the unfortunate discriminatory and outdated practices by certain youth groups by revoking their tax exemption privilege should they not comply with non-discrimination laws.”

Organizations Respond to the Bill

Brian McClintock, a spokesperson for Little League International, indicated they already have a policy against discrimination of members based on color, disability gender, marital status, national origin, race, or sexual orientation.  Therefore, he hoped their organization would not be impacted by the bill in the event it passes.

“In order to be an officially chartered Little League, any local organization must adhere to this policy for all players and volunteers,” McClintock noted.

Joshua Ackley, a spokesperson for the Girl Scouts, likewise responded indicating that the organization’s policy concerning membership and leadership is already one of inclusiveness.

“While Girl Scouts of the USA does not comment on legislation, we value diversity and inclusiveness, and our membership is representative of our diverse communities,” Ackley wrote.  “Girl Scout membership does not discriminate on any basis, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Supporters of the bill, such as John O’Connor, Executive Director of Equality California, believe taxpayers should not support tax-exempt status for organizations with discriminatory practices.

“California does not tolerate discrimination and we certainly shouldn’t pay for it,” noted John O’Connor, Executive Director of Equality California.  “Organizations that discriminate against a young person or leader because of who they are or who they love should be sent a clear message—discrimination has a real cost.”

The Boy Scouts have chosen not to address the legislation to date.

“The focus of our 23 local Boy Scouts councils across the state of California is to deliver the Scouting program to more than 180,000 youth, many of whom are disadvantaged and at risk,” noted a prepared statement from a Boy Scout  spokesperson.  “Scouting gives young people the opportunity to develop skills and take responsibility while inspiring a lifetime of character and service.”

Does such legislation stop with youth groups?

However, the possibility of this or a similar bill passing is concerning to any nonprofit private organization, especially churches.  This same logic could be applied to pull the tax-exempt status from churches, which have specific Biblical-based reasons for choosing not to have leaders with certain sexual orientations.

by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.