LA Sheriff Hedges on Boy Scout Affiliation

By Maria Elena Kennedy | July 7, 2008 | 8:03 PM EDT

Los Angeles ( - Following a flurry of petitions, telephone calls and e-mails sent to the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, a spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca said he "has not made up his mind" about severing his department's ties with the Boy Scout Explorer program. \tab

The city had decided to end ended its Scout Explorers program, a youth group that worked with the Los Angeles Police Department, largely as a result of prompting from former councilman and now state Assemblyman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles).

But Scout supporters became alarmed at what they considered a wholesale attack on the organization, and about 200 rallied in downtown Los Angeles last month, circulating a petition urging Baca not to follow the city's example and dissolve the program.

"Sheriff Baca has not made a decision," said Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department spokesman Sergeant Vanette Ford. "He will be sitting down with the Boy Scouts in mid February... to look at how we can continue our relationship." Ford added that Baca "has received a lot of input from the community."

Baca had earlier indicated that he was considering dissolving the department's relationship with the Scouts because of a local ordinance that prohibits discriminatory practices. \tab

This and similar controversies stemmed from the 2000 US Supreme Court decision that affirmed the Scouts' right to freedom of association, which resulted in scores of cities, groups and agencies distancing themselves from the Boy Scouts of America, citing concern over the group's policy of not allowing homosexuals to be scoutmasters.

The Scout Explorer program in Los Angeles had introduced many young people to law enforcement careers over the years. The city will now charge the Scouts for use of Los Angeles parks, meeting rooms, camps and other facilities.

Additionally, the city will be conducting audits of its departments to see if any of them continue to have any sort of relationship with the Scouts or any other group that uses sexual preference as a criterion for membership or participation.

Ken Fisher of Troop 73 at St. Boniface in Anaheim, who was among the protestors at the December 16 rally, said that Baca was merely toeing a line of political correctness with regards to the Boy Scouts.

"That's a perfect example of someone who is willing to sacrifice an excellent program in order to please a homosexual minority," Fisher said. "Explorer Scouts have traditionally manned police offices for free, done traffic control for free. Those kids out there in khaki uniforms aren't paid, those are Explorer Scouts".

Fisher said that the kids will be the ones to suffer because Explorer Scouts give them an introduction to the law enforcement field. "This is the traditional way for a police departments to recruit new officers," Fisher said.

The scouts are receiving help in the matter from a California-based legal advocacy group. Brad Dacus, who heads up the Pacific Justice Institute, said in a statement that his group will be paying close attention to Baca's actions.

"It's unfortunate to see such an intolerant policy being adopted against an organization serving the community and meeting the needs of many young men," Dacus said. "We'll be watching closely to ensure that whatever policy they adopt is not applied in an unconstitutional manner".