Maricopa County officials are investigating whether a California federal judge’s recent ruling against the Boy Scouts of America could affect plans for a youth campsite at San Tan Mountains Regional Park.
U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones Jr. ruled July 31 that the Boy Scouts’ lease of public park land for an 18-acre camp in San Diego violates the constitutional separation of church and state, Maricopa County officials learned Tuesday.
The Boy Scouts have also proposed leasing 100 acres of the park’s "south finger" for use as a youth campground. The park is in northern Pinal County but is under Maricopa County Parks and Recreation control.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of San Diego and the Boy Scouts in August 2000 on behalf of a lesbian couple and an agnostic couple. Jones agreed with the ACLU’s argument that public land should not be used by an organization that discriminates against homosexuals or requires members to express a belief in God.
Queen Creek-area real estate agent Bambi Sandquist found an article about the case that originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune and sent a copy to San Tan park project manager Roxana Rojo, who said she forwarded it to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
The article quotes Jones’ ruling as stating, "The city handpicked as the preferred lessee an organization that describes religious belief and practice as fundamental to the services it provides." The Tribune could not obtain a copy of the ruling by deadline on Tuesday.
Maricopa County Community Services director William Scalzo noted that no decision has been made about the proposed San Tan youth camp, and he said any concerns about a lawsuit are premature.
"We’re not anywhere near that point," Scalzo said.
Although the Scouts would play a key role in operating the San Tan campground, Grand Canyon Council chief executive Larry Abbott said his organization would partner with several other nonprofit groups, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Arizona, Campfire Boys and Girls, Friendly House, Girl Scouts and Special Olympics Arizona.
Abbott said he has known about the San Diego case for two months but did not discuss it with Maricopa County officials because he didn’t think it was relevant. He added that the Scouts are appealing the decision.
Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, R-District 2 of Mesa, called the ruling "one dumb decision by one dumb judge" and said it would not curb the county’s enthusiasm about the youth campground.
"Some federal judge in San Diego is not going to dampen our spirits," he said.
Bill FitzGerald, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said his office will research the case to determine whether it could create a legal problem for the county.
Abbott said the Scouts "probably" would allow a gay couple and their children to camp in the park, but he added that his organization still opposes homosexuality.
"We don’t want to promote a gay lifestyle with kids," he said.