Court To Hear Gay Boy Scouts Case Today

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case that concerns the rights of private organizations to discriminate in their admission policies.

Dale. V. Boy Scouts of America comes to the Court from the New Jersey State Supreme Court, which found last year that the Boy Scouts discriminated against a 26-year-old homosexual man when it prohibited him from serving as an assistant scoutmaster in Matawan.

The New Jersey Court in its ruling concluded that the Scouts were an "open accommodation" liable to state anti-discrimination laws, with Chief Justice Deborah Poritz decrying "the human price of this bigotry" in her sharply-worded opinion.

In its defense, the BSA said that it had a First Amendment right to set its standards for admission into the group - and that one of those standards is a rejection of homosexual behavior as incompatible with the requirement that Scouts be "morally straight."

Arguing the case on behalf of Dale today will be Evan Wolfson, general counsel of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"Time and again the Supreme Court has rejected the notion that the First Amendment gives groups a 'right to discriminate,'" said Wolfson. "Boy Scouts do not come together to promote an anti-gay or discriminatory message. Scouts come together around the traditions and values of Scouting, things James Dale always did and still desires to uphold."

But Paul Stevenson, spokesperson for the BSA, told that the ban on homosexuals and atheists in the Boy Scouts has been in place since the organization's founding in 1910, and is an essential component of the creed of Scouting.

"Those who subscribe to the Scout Oath and Law are invited to join," said Stevenson. Our position is based on the desire to provide role models that reflect Scouting's values and beliefs."

The case has attracted widespread media attention, and more than 150 organizations have filed amicus briefs on both sides.

John Eastman, a professor of law and director of the Claremont Institute's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence - which filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the BSA - told that the case had "huge implications for the marketplace of ideas."

"The way you challenge an idea is by building political will in the marketplace of ideas," said Eastman. "What the New Jersey Court has done is shut down that marketplace and allowed the government to define for us what we ought to be thinking."

But Matt Coles, director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, said that by deciding against the Boy Scouts, the Court would be upholding traditional American ideals of equality.

"Every leading civil rights and First Amendment group in the country has come forward, together, telling the Supreme Court that preventing the Boy Scouts from discriminating is not only Constitutional, but is in line with the core American value of judging people on the basis of capability, not on stereotypes," said Coles.