PD Editorial: The bottom line on security for Bohemian camp

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Beginning in a few weeks, hundreds of members of the all-male Bohemian Club — corporate chiefs, political heavyweights, actors, musicians and maybe even some journalists — will start arriving for the club’s annual encampment in the redwoods.

It’s a summer ritual here in Sonoma County. So are demonstrations outside the gates of the Bohemian Grove.

This year, there’s a twist. Sonoma County’s supervisors are mulling a protest of their own: declining to provide round-the-clock security during the 19-day encampment because the Bohemian Club doesn’t admit women.

“I don’t see how we can be providing law enforcement for a club that discriminates so blatantly,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said Tuesday.

Here’s why they should: The club is exercising its right to free association, just as any demonstrators are exercising their right to free speech.

Zane and her board colleagues are right: An all-male club is something of an anachronism in a country that, in most instances, prohibits gender discrimination.

Women have broken many barriers, winning public office and rising to the top of companies and institutions. This week, we marked an important centennial: On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the women’s suffrage amendment and sent it to the states for ratification, which came quickly, allowing women to vote in the 1920 presidential election. Heading into 2020, six women are running for president.

At times, however, there has been fierce resistance. Rotary Clubs began admitting women after a legal fight in the 1980s that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Before finally admitting women in 2012, the August National Golf Club once purchased all of the TV advertising time for the Masters tournament to shield potential sponsors from protests.

But private organizations still can legally limit membership by gender. Some, including about three dozen prestigious colleges, a chain of fitness centers and a rapidly expanding social club called The Wing, exclude men. Protests are rare.

What puts the Bohemian Club in the spotlight are the guests at its annual encampment, who reportedly have included Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and every Republican president from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush as well as Walter Cronkite, Clint Eastwood and Jimmy Buffett, to name a few.

Most demonstrators are content to pound drums and wave signs outside the 2,700-acre Bohemian Grove. But there have been bizarre and potentially dangerous incidents, including the self-style commando who sneaked inside to investigate unfounded claims in a video produced by a Texas radio host who deals in conspiracy theories.

Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies respond when there’s a demonstration or a disturbance at the Bohemian Grove, just as they do anywhere in their jurisdiction. That’s their job.

Since 2004, the Bohemian Club has paid the Sheriff’s Office for extra security during its encampment. Organizers of bike races and other events do the same thing. But as part of its deal, the Bohemian Club has reimbursed the county for all law enforcement costs associated with the encampment.

Zane, after routinely approving the contract for seven years, objected this week when it came up for renewal. Her board colleagues, male and female, expressed varying levels of discomfort, and the vote was postponed so county attorneys could research the legal issues.

The Bohemian Club’s membership policy may be outdated, but it isn’t outlawed. And the bottom line is the bottom line: If the club pays the full cost for law enforcement, taxpayers, whatever their views on the subject, aren’t subsidizing its all-male campout.

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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