Boy Scouts' Code Bars Gays, High Court Hears

Article excerpt

The Boy Scouts of America should not be forced to crusade openly against homosexuality in order to enforce the organization's moral code barring homosexuals from being Scout leaders, an attorney for the Scouts told the Supreme Court yesterday.

"It's the right of the Scouts to choose the moral leaders it wants for the children in the program," George A. Davidson told the court, which includes at least four former Boy Scouts.

He insisted the policy was made clear by recitation at every meeting since 1910 of the requirement to be "morally straight in thought, word and deed."

"Boy Scouting is so closely identified with traditional moral values that the term `a real Boy Scout' has entered the language," he said in urging the court to overturn a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling to restore to duty James Dale, 30, who was expelled by a Monmouth County troop on the basis of a news report that he declared his homosexuality at a seminar unrelated to Boy Scouting.

Lawyer Evan Wolfson of the gay rights activist group, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, said New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination targeted "discriminatory practices, not expression" and accused the Boy Scouts of using First Amendment claims as an excuse for violating Mr. Dale's rights since 1990.

Mr. Wolfson said that unless the Boy Scouts are an "anti-gay organization" Mr. Dale's scoutmaster role did not interfere with its First Amendment rights of expression. He reminded the justices the state high court ruled Boy Scouting a "public accommodation" subject to civil rights laws.

"Once there's a `public accommodation' the right of association is subordinated - somehow secondary?" Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked.

"Mr. Dale has not asked to carry a banner" promoting homosexuality, Justice David H. Souter said in pressing the Scouts to answer Mr. Dale's promise not to proselytize and his claim that Boy Scout manuals don't "convey an explicit view against homosexuals."

"Mr. Justice Souter, he put a banner around his neck," Mr. Davidson responded. "He can't take that banner off. He put it on himself. …