Rainier Beach United Methodist Church v. BSA

If you know me, you know my past on the Boy Scouts and the anti-gay policy is something I’ve addressed before.  First in this post which served as my coming out, and then in an It Get’s Better video targeted to help scouts in the closet, and most recently when the BSA reviewed their membership policy.

Just this January the BSA officially began allowing gay youth members in the program but continued to exclude gay adults.  For those unfamiliar with the program that means a scout can be in the program and openly gay until he turns 18 but then must ejected.  Or you can do as many have done and many still do and just stay hidden in the closet (totally healthy and completely awesome – note sarcasm).  When they first were thinking of new policies it looked like the BSA may allow each charter partner to pick their own membership standard.  This would have been a pretty good compromise.  Instead they came up with their asinine “gay kids are good but gay adults are evil” policy.  When the policy was announced, it was clear to me that this policy would not stand up to the test the Supreme Court established in BSA v. Dale.

Quick history on Dale.  A gay Scouter sued the Boy Scouts over their anti-gay policy in the 1990s.  The Supreme Court ruled that “[t]he Boy Scouts asserts that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values it seeks to instill,” and that a gay troop leader’s presence “would, at the very least, force the organization to send a message, both to the young members and the world, that the Boy Scouts accepts homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior.”  You can click here for complete details.  Essentially the BSA argued that being heterosexual was a core belief and the 1st Amendment right of expressive association protected the BSA from complying with anti-discrimination laws.  Their argument was similar to “the KKK doesn’t have to permit African American members because it so against their beliefs”.  Trade BSA for KKK and African American for gay and you essentially have the BSA’s argument and the Supreme Court bought it and confirmed the BSA was allowed to exclude gay members.  See that coming out post I linked to above to see my other problems with the BSA’s argument’s in the case primarily their disregard for the first point of the Scout Law.

Fast forward to the announced new “gay boys are cool but gay adults are icky” membership standard and you see that Dale crumbles away.  With the membership policy change, the BSA essentially declared that heterosexuality was no longer a core belief of the organization.  Therefore, using Dale as a shield to protect it from compliance with anti-discrimination and other suits will no longer work.  Their lawyers knew this.  This is why you saw a beefing up of the religious requirements along with the erasing of heterosexuality as core belief.  They likely assumed the new policy would be challenged just like the old and while the arguments for the bifurcated “gay adults are icky” policy would not pass muster under the Dale test (its a core belief that one day changes sexuality from being a non-issue to being a dis-qualifier? really? really?) but that attacks from what they view as the enemy could be thwarted by the religion clause.  That was until this week.

You see over the past few weeks, a gay Scoutmaster in Seattle was asked, more like told, to step down for being in violation of the membership policy.  His troop was chartered by the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church and they did something remarkable.  They stood by their man.  You see, in the BSA, the chartering organization is supposed to be able to control the adult member positions and they were just fine with their Scoutmaster leading their troop and they would not be telling him to step down.  Today is what revealed that the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church had their charter revoked. My favorite part of the story is that the church already has a lawyer.  Cue the lawsuit.  The BSA won’t be able to hide behind their religious clause because it is a church based troop (not all troops are church based) and with the silly dual (dare I say “bi”) system that can’t in any way, shape, or form pass the Dale test  the current ban on gay adult leaders is living on borrowed time.  Too much time, but borrowed time.

Changing It Up

You may have noticed that I’m posting with much less frequency than I have in the past.  Part of that is because the stuff I’d love to blog about and could shoot off thoughts on a daily basis (primarily politics) is not necessarily a wise idea given my current work.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other things I’m happy to write about.  I just need to process other topics more.  So with the help of my friend Travis you’ll see some changes to the blog soon.  More likely shifting to a magazine style blog with maybe a publication once a month with multiple posts and hopefully different contributors.

You can get a good flavor of my political world by following me on Twitter: @rossearmstrong or specifically my Nevada news feed.  If you are interested in becoming a contributor for the new blog, contact me and we’ll see what we can do.  The same goes if you want to let me know the types of things you want to see.

A Lack of Leadership

On Tuesday President Obama will deliver the State of the Union and his Press Secretary indicates that 2014 may be a year of bypassing inaction in Congress. Given that last year Congress was the least effective Congress in just about ever, this doesn’t seem like necessarily a bad idea.

The idea got me thinking about a topic that none of the numerous leadership trainings and seminars I’ve gone to really touches on; what do you do when you are in an organization and the leaders won’t lead?

I’ve recently been in an organization like this, where there is a lack of action among the leadership and not real organizationally acceptable way to fix it.  The answer?  I’m not entirely sure.  The President is in the unique situation where he can bypass those who refuse to lead but there has to be way to create change from the bottom when there is a vacuum at the top.  Some obvious options include giving up and just keeping your head down or doing your own thing and hope no one gets mad or leaving the organization.  I don’t have the answer now, but I’ll be thinking about it.  If you have any thoughts, post them below.

Nevada’s Rural Courthouses

I haven’t seen them all but now that I’m about 8 months into my new job, I’ve seen quite a few of Nevada’s rural courthouses by now.  In style and gravitas they are about diverse as you can get.  The basics of course are all there.  A bench, counsel tables, seats for the audience but beyond that they all have their unique take on how the arena of justice should look.  They can split into a few different categories.

The Institutional: There are some buildings that seem to draw there inspiration right out of our Cold War characterization of the USSR (the Mackay Social Sciences building at Nevada).  Plain, minimal and damn right uninspiring.  These courthouses lack the gravitas might expect with the “American Justice System”.  The most redeeming quality is their functionality.  They don’t take your breath away as your approach, you have rely on the content of what goes on to capture your spirit.  Which courthouses fall into this category? Nye County is the biggest culprit with their courthouses both in Pahrump and Tonopah (the Beatty Justice Court goes in a different category) looking like regular old government buildings from the outside.  The inside of the courtrooms don’t get much better.  With the exception of a large elk head oddly mounted in Tonopah, the rooms of void of character.  Another casualty of the drab is Douglas County.  Although the building itself gives off more of a courthouse appearance, its still difficult to figure out until you actually get in the courtroom and then it has the same issue as Nye County.  Mineral County has a similar style but is unusually sad with laminate quality wood and a feeling that comes right out of 1970s nostalgia.  Yikes.  I also put Churchill County in this category also with some hesitation.  The building has the best exterior of this category but the interior still focuses on functionality as opposed to inspiration.

The Modern: Inspiring courthouse design didn’t die in 1900 as you might expect from the institutional ones.  There are two major courthouses that fit into this category and one justice courthouse.  The king of this category is Carson City.  As you approach the building you see the different floors of the courthouse through huge windows.  You can see parties waiting to be called.  Once you get to your floor, you can look out and see the city and mountains.  Once inside, the bench is high enough to demand attention, the woodwork is well done, and the general feel is that you come to expect from a courthouse.  I also put the new Lyon County courthouse in Yerington in this category.  From the exterior the damn thing looks like a giant barn (which is appropriate for the area) but what they did really nicely in Yerington is the courtroom itself.  Beautiful white painted wood gives the room a clean yet old-timey feel and the bench sits against the back in a way again that commands attention.  The Beatty Justice Court also fits in this category.  As you travel up the barely paved road past the high school you can see the courthouse up on the hill, its modern in its lines and design but the front design just screams “I’m a courthouse”.  Inside, the highlight is a wooden Great Seal of the State of Nevada.

The Historic: The last category is the historic; the courthouses that haven’t changed much since the early 1900s.  Goldfield’s courthouse looks like a castle from afar.  As you approach, you clearly arrive at the center of attention (now that the Goldfield hotel is closed).  I can remember gingerly walking through the front doors my first time.  The first door you see is the DA’s office.  Then in the back is the justice court (a room similar in size to my apartment’s living room with the judges office in one corner and the bench along the other wall, there are two or three short rows of wooden chairs and counsel share a table).  The district courtroom is literally upstairs and has a huge section for the peanut gallery with the original wood chairs, the jury box in unchanged (cowboy hat holders and all) and the massive counsel desks are leather topped.  It’s just beautiful.  Elko County has the great classic front that you imagine when hear about a courthouse complete with columns and steps up to the front door.  A center staircase  that curves either directions leads you up to the two courtrooms.  I also put Humboldt County’s courthouse in Winnemucca in this category although its a bit weird.  They have build an institutional building that attaches to the old courthouse.  So from one entry your get the traditional courthouse look and another similar to Douglas County.  Inside there is a grand staircase that spirals up to courts that are down institutional hallways.  It’s an add mishmash but the preservation of the staircase pushes it into this category.  The crown jewel of Nevada’s rural courthouses (of the ones I’ve been to so far) is the Pershing County courthouse in Lovelock.  It is circular, yes, circular.  A long series of steps leads you to the front door, then in your go to the center of the building.  The dome ceiling is painted like the sky and a huge western mural backs the judge’s bench.  The jury box is in the center of the room and the two counsel tables face each other (a little intense).  It’s odd and beautiful at the same time.  Photos of it are prominently featured through this year’s Supreme Court report.

I still some courthouses to see but if you happen to be traveling through rural Nevada, know that at least some of the courthouses are worth a stop to see.  The two I wouldn’t miss if you’re passing by? Goldfield and Lovelock.

Showing the Parents Midtown

My folks came into town last weekend and my new apartment made it perfect to check out Midtown with them.  I picked my mom up first and we headed to the Reno Public House before heading to my place (my dad was coming in separately from California).  My mom remembered the building as a doctor’s office and thinks she even had an appointment there back in the day.  We had some old fashioned medicine and headed to my place.

The next morning we went to the Deluxe for breakfast. It was good as always (including the ultra-sexy waiter that is always there on the weekends).  We then went to Sippies for some new shoes and sticker (STICKERS!!!!) book for my niece.  A quick stop in Happy Happy Joy Joy to browse and we were set to do some grandparent rounds.

After visiting my grandma, my dad and I stopped by Craft to get a beer to celebrate his new job.  While there we decided rather than go out to a party, to hang at home.  We grabbed a few sick packs and headed for home.  Wild Garlic made some delicious pizzas for us and we watch Django while my little niece slept like a rock.  I haven’t really asked what they thought about the weekend but certainly not your standard “weekend in Reno” as most Californians think of it.  It’s just more evidence than Reno is growing up and beyond it’s gambling and divorce past.