Twins who refuse to take oath picked to receive Eagle Scout badges

Wednesday, March 18, 1998

Under pressure from a California state court, the Orange County Boy Scout Council has awarded Eagle Scout badges to brothers who refuse to swear an oath to God.

The Boy Scout Council voted Sunday to recommend the organization's highest honor for Michael and William Randall, the twins who were tossed out of the Boy Scouts of America in 1991 for refusing to take the oath.

While the decision is subject to final approval by the National Council of the Boy Scouts, officials at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which provided legal representation for the boys, say they know of no instance in the Scouts' history where the National Council has refused to confirm the award once it has been awarded by a local council.

“This victory is long past due,” Taylor Flynn, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said. “It is unfortunate that the Boy Scouts have felt the need to dig in and thwart the inspiring work of two young men who are such a credit to their Boy Scout Council and their community.”

The legal struggle began in 1991, when as 9-year-olds the Randall brothers protested their expulsion from the organization for refusing to take the oath. The boys said that they did not consider themselves to be atheists but that, because they did not understand what God means, they felt uncomfortable taking the oath.

The California Superior Court ruled in 1992 that the Boy Scouts is a business subject to the anti-discrimination protections of the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act.

The court ordered the twins to be reinstated and prohibited the Boy Scouts from requiring the boys to use the word “God” or compelling them to meet religious requirements for advancement. Two years later a state court of appeals upheld that decision.

When the twins applied to become Eagle Scouts last year, however, the Orange County council refused to consider them.

In February, the California Supreme Court ruled that the Scouts cannot try to block the twins from trying to attain the group's highest rank while their legal battle with group continues. Subsequently, a lower state court ruled that the Orange County council must consider the twins' applications.

Greg Shields, spokesman for the Boy Scouts, said he knows of no previous case in which Eagle Scout status was recommended for someone who refused to swear an oath to God. Shields said the group is private organization that should not be forced by the government to establish certain membership guidelines.

“We are a voluntary association to which no one is forced to belong and are thus entitled to First Amendment protections guaranteeing us the right to association,” Shields recently told The Christian Science Monitor.

The California Supreme Court must still decide whether the lower courts correctly determined that the Scouts is a business and subject to state laws preventing discrimination based on religious beliefs. The high court's decision is expected before April.