Saturday, December 22, 2012
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled this week in Barnes-Wallace v. City of San Diego that the City's lease to the Boy Scouts for property to use for youth recreational programs did not violate the California Constitution's No Aid Clause and the state and federal establishment clauses. The plaintiffs said that the Boy Scouts prohibit atheists, agnostics, and gays and lesbians from being members or volunteers and require members to affirm a belief in God, and that a City lease to the organization on favorable terms therefore violated state and federal constitutional prohibitions on government aid to religion. The ruling almost certainly ends this long-running case in favor of the City.
California's No Aid Clause prohibits the City from "mak[ing] an appropriation, or pay[ing] from any public fund whatever, or grant[ing] anything to or in aid of any religious sect, church, creed, or sectarian purpose . . . ." Cal. Const. art. XVI Sec. 5. The state Supreme Court has read into the Clause four requirements: (1) the government program must serve the public interest and provide no more than an incidental benefit to religion; (2) the program must be available to both secular and sectarian institutions on an equal basis; (3) the program must prohibit use of public funds for "religious projects"; and (4) the program must not impose any financial burden on the government.
The Ninth Circuit said the lease satisfied the four-part test. It said that the lease was for the Boy Scouts to run youth recreational activities, not for any religious purpose; that the City leased property to scores of secular organizations; that no City funds went to "religious projects"; and that the leases weren't a financial burden on the government. (The court said that even the favorable leases netted out to the City's benefit, because the Boy Scouts substantially improved and managed the leased property.)
The court said that both the California and federal establishment clauses turned on the Lemon test, and that the City's lease satisfied it. The court held that the purpose of the lease was secular (to provide facilities and services for youth activities); that a reasonable observer could not conclude that the City was engaged in religious indocrination, or was defining aid recipients by reference to religion; and that the City wasn't involved at all in the management of the leased properties.