Gays and Boy Scouts Meet in Court

The Christian Century, August 25, 1999 | Go to article overview

Gays and Boy Scouts Meet in Court


The Boy Scouts of America says it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold its ban on homosexuals, claiming that its constitutional rights of free association and speech include the right to bar gays. "We'll argue the First Amendment," attorney George Davidson said in the wake of a ruling August 4 by New Jersey's Supreme Court finding that the Scouts' ban on gays violated the state's antibias laws. The ruling was the first time a state high court has invalidated the Scouts' ban. The group also bars atheists and agnostics from membership and leadership positions.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a legal advocacy group founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, said it found the New Jersey ruling "troubling." "The decision ... turns the Boy Scouts' constitutional right of freedom of association on its head," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ. The group had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of four members of Congress.

But the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force hailed the ruling as a victory for tolerance. "Discrimination is a harmful and serious moral wrong," said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the task force. New Jersey is one of 11 states, along with the District of Columbia, that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The decision was a victory for James Dale, an assistant scoutmaster who was kicked out of the Scouts nine years ago when leaders found out he was gay. He sued, seeking reinstatement. In its unanimous 7-0 ruling the court held that the Boy Scouts "is a place of public accommodation" and therefore subject to the state's antibias law. It rejected the youth group's argument that the words "morally straight" and "clean" in the Scouts' Oath and Law "explicitly or implicitly stand for the proposition that homosexuality is immoral." And: "The words `morally straight' and `clean' do not, on their face, express anything about sexuality, much less that homosexuality, in particular, is immoral."

In subsequent developments, a local Rhode Island chapter of the Boy Scouts of America has issued a statement acknowledging that a Scout can be a homosexual as long as he doesn't advertise it. …

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