Upholds Scouts’ First Amendment right to control their message
Washington, D.C. – In a landmark victory for First Amendment rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Boy Scouts may prohibit homosexuals from serving as scoutmasters. The Court’s 5-4 decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale reverses the New Jersey Supreme Court, which held that the Boy Scouts’ prohibition violated the state’s law banning discrimination in public accommodations. In its amicus brief, the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) argued that this interpretation of the law violated the Scouts’ freedoms of expression and association. Today the Court agreed, finding that the “state interests embodied in New Jersey’s public accommodations law do not justify such a severe intrusion on the Boy Scouts’ rights to freedom of expressive association.”
Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist cited the Scouts’ belief that “homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values embodied in the Scout Oath and Law.” The Scouts cannot be compelled, he said, to endorse the contrary “message” sent by the “presence of an avowed homosexual and gay rights activist in an assistant scoutmaster’s uniform.”
Noting the observation in Justice Stevens’s dissent that “the public perception of homosexuality in this country has changed,” Rehnquist responded that “the fact that an idea may be embraced and advocated by increasing numbers of people is all the more reason to protect the First Amendment rights of those who wish to voice a different view.”
“Today’s decision helps to ensure that the government cannot coerce us to alter our private associations and expression to fit the prevailing political orthodoxy,” added Curt Levey, CIR’s Director of Legal & Public Affairs. CIR’s brief argued that the protection of individual liberty “demands vigilance against creeping encroachment of government power through broad redefinition of the ‘public’ realm.” The Court echoed similar sentiments today, noting that as “the definition of ‘public accommodation’ has expanded . . ., the potential for conflict [with] the First Amendment rights of organizations has increased.”
Civil rights groups are loudly denouncing today’s decision as a setback for gay rights, but Mr. Levey disagrees. “Civil rights groups should embrace today’s decision, because under a contrary holding, states could compel the NAACP to appoint white leaders and NOW to select men for its leadership positions,” Levey explained.
CIR is a national public interest law firm specializing in First Amendment issues, civil rights, and constitutional limits on federal power. CIR has directly litigated and won important Supreme Court cases in each of these areas. In Dale, CIR joined with several other groups in submitting its amicus brief.
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