The radiative transfer theory is applied within the Rayleigh approximation to calculate the backscattering cross section of a layer of randomly positioned and oriented small ellipsoids. The orientation of the ellipsoids is characterized by a probability density function of the Eulerian angles of rotation. The radiative transfer equations are solved by an iterative approach to first order in albedo. In the half space limit the results are identical to those obtained via the approach of Foldy's and distorted Born approximation. Numerical results of the theory are illustrated using parameters encountered in active remote sensing of vegetation layers. A distinctive characteristic is the strong depolarization shown by vertically aligned leaves.