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By Dawn Wolfe
A January Michigan Appeals Court decision may support the rights of students and community members to hold meetings of Gay-Straight Alliances in the public schools.
The case, Scalise v. Boy Scouts of America and Mt. Pleasant Public schools, was originally filed by John Scalise on behalf of himself and his son in October 2000. Scalise, whose membership as a den leader was revoked when he refused to endorse the Scouts’ declaration of religious principle, sued on the grounds that the Boy Scouts’ use of the public schools constituted a violation of the separation of church and state mandated in both the U.S. and Michigan constitutions, as well as both state and national civil rights laws.
In addition to requiring its members to subscribe to a belief in God, the Boy Scouts forbids membership to gays.
The Appeals Court denied Scalise’s appeal, claiming that the Boy Scouts were not being given special privileges over other similar groups seeking to use school property. According to the court’s opinion, the Boy Scouts are among several groups that not only use school property for after school meetings, but also are allowed to advertise their organizations directly to students via flyers that are handed out and posted in the schools during school hours. The one special right that the Boy Scouts were allowed, sending representatives into classrooms to recruit, was discontinued in September of 2000.
However, the court’s opinion fails to justify Mount Pleasant schools’ decision to rank the Boy Scouts as a “school-related” group. “School-related” groups, unlike groups categorized as “non-profit community groups,” are allowed to use school facilities for free.
According to Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project, the decision could be good news for GSA groups seeking access to Michigan’s public schools.
“The Michigan Court of Appeals decision, although not dealing with Gay Straight Alliances, reinforces the right of GSAs and other non-curricular clubs to form and hold meetings during non-school hours at public schools – provided the school allows non-curricular clubs in general to form and meet,” Kaplan said.
The original plaintiff in the case is not pleased with the Appeals Court’s decision.
Timothy Taylor, Scalise’s attorney, says that Scalise will be filing an appeal of the decision with the Michigan Supreme Court and that if that appeal is unsuccessful, “we are considering our options to pursue the case in the federal courts.”
Taylor continued, “We believe that the lower courts dishonestly decided this case on political rather than legal grounds, as they ignored the undisputed facts showing that the school district is sponsoring Boy Scout discrimination in the schools in violation of the Michigan Constitution and Civil Rights laws.”