WASHINGTON The Supreme Court refused yesterday to consider whether some groups have a constitutional right to exclude women.
Justices rejected an appeal from the Fraternal Order of Eagles, which was ordered by a Washington state court to reopen its membership in that state to women.
The high court held in 1987 in Board of Directors of Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte
that states can require civic organizations that engage in public outreach like the Rotarians and Jaycees to take male and female members. But the justices declined to consider whether states can force other social organizations to reach out to women.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled that an accommodations law in that state required the Fraternal Order of Eagles to allow female members.
The group appealed, arguing that its First Amendment free-speech rights would be violated if women joined. Their attorney, John Warner Widell, said the group's ritualistic meetings and initiation ceremonies involve "a shared belief in the value of brotherhood
and manly virtue."
The Fraternal Order of Eagles, founded in 1898, has 1.6 million members and a presence in every state, the Court was told.
It had allowed women in the 1990s, but then reversed its policy. Nine women and two local chapters sued under the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
Rosemary Daszkiewicz, the attorney for the women who want to become members, said the group's mission is to unite "all persons of good moral character" who believe in God and principles such as liberty and truth.
The case is Fraternal Order of Eagles v. Tenino Aerie No. 564, 02-1415.