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San Diego's Land Leases To Boy Scouts Ruled Legal

The Boy Scouts of America have two leases on city-owned land in Balboa Park and Mission Bay.
Rennett Stowe
The Boy Scouts of America have two leases on city-owned land in Balboa Park and Mission Bay.

A federal appeals court has ruled that two leases the Boy Scouts of America have on city-owned land in Balboa Park and Mission Bay are not illegal.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling Thursday, reversing a lower court decision that the leases violate the state constitution's ban on giving aid or preference to religious groups, according to U-T San Diego. The move is part of a legal battle that has been going on for more than a decade stemming from the use of the word "God" in the scout oath. The oath also states a scout must be "faithful in his religious duties."

In its ruling Thursday, the appeals court deemed the leases are, at most, of "incidental" aid to the group and do not violate either the federal or state constitution.


The legal battle against the leases began in 2000. The ACLU filed suit against the city on behalf of a lesbian and an agnostic couple, claiming the leases effectively prohibited the couples' sons from using city land on a religious basis.

The Boy Scouts' religious origins oppose homosexuality and the lack of total belief in God.

Terry Trout with the Boy Scouts' San Diego-Imperial Council told U-T San Diego that the group was pleased with Thursday's ruling. But David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, told the newspaper his group will be analyzing the ruling and considering a next step.

The leases are for 16 acres in Balboa Park and another half-acre on Fiesta Island in Mission Bay. The land is used for camping and other recreational activities. San Diego receives $1 a year in rent for the Balboa Park space, plus an annual administration fee initially set at $2,500. Terms of the Fiesta Island lease were not reported.