Youth groups are valued institutions providing opportunities for American children to be exposed to other children and adult role models who have differing backgrounds and beliefs. As such, federal and state governments have encouraged the existence and expansion of youth groups through grants and tax privileges that have allowed these organizations to flourish with the taxpayers’ support.
Unfortunately, some of these youth groups have discriminatory policies that prohibit certain children or adults from participating in or leading youth group activities because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious views. The Boy Scouts of America in particular, prohibit participation by children or adults, who are nonreligious. Previously, the organization also banned LGBT children from participating in the Boy Scouts, but this policy was changed following public upheaval and threats from several state legislatures to end the tax-exempt status enjoyed by the organization. The California State Senate has already passed such a bill,84 and similar bills may be introduced and passed in other states.
Under certain criteria, and despite state anti-discrimination laws, a private organization has a right to exclude a person from membership through their First Amendment right to freedom of association.85 However, private organizations that receive public funds or enjoy a special tax status should not be able to uniformly ban the membership of certain sexual or religious minorities.
Taxpayers should not be forced to support private organizations that explicitly discriminate because of their religious views, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Congress and state legislatures should create laws that exclude these discriminatory private groups from receiving government grants and from enjoying beneficial tax statuses. Private organizations wishing to enforce certain requirements on their membership can continue to do so without government interference while ensuring that taxpayers are not supporting groups that are discriminatory.
POLICY RECOMMENDATION: Youth groups receiving government grants and/or preferential tax status must be prepared to represent all citizens and not discriminate on the basis of participants’ religious affiliation or sexual orientation.