After the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts may not exclude homosexuals from leadership positions, the Scouts were forced to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect their First Amendment rights. CIR filed anamicus brief urging the Court to respect the Scouts’ freedom of association. The High Court ruled in favor of the Scouts 5-4, setting an important precedent for the right of groups to choose their own membership.
“WHILE THE LAW MAY PROMOTE ALL SORTS OF CONDUCT IN PLACE OF HARMFUL BEHAVIOR, IT MAY NOT INTERFERE WITH SPEECH FOR NO BETTER REASON THAN PROMOTING AN APPROVED MESSAGE OR DISCOURAGING A DISFAVORED ONE, HOWEVER ENLIGHTED EITHER PURPOSE MAY SEEM.”
THE SUPREME COURT
The first major challenge to The Boy Scouts of America’s right of expressive association was levied by Rutgers student James Dale. The young Dale had joined the Boy Scouts of America in 1978 and reached the rank of Eagle Scout ten years later. When he applied to be an assistant scoutmaster in 1989, he was accepted immediately. But when Dale arrived at college, he acknowledged that he was gay. A newspaper published a picture of him at a meeting of the Lesbian and Gay Alliance, and one month later his membership in the Scouts was revoked.
|James Dale (left) sued the Boys Scouts of America for refusing to let him be a scoutmaster.|
Dale asked the Scouts why he had been ejected, and they confirmed it was because of his sexual orientation. In 1992, he sued the Monmouth County Scouts for expressley violating New Jersey’s common law and bans on discrimination. The New Jersey Superior Court’s Chancery Division granted summary judgment to the Boy Scouts, and Dale appealed. He won the next two decisions in Appeals and in the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The contentious case was taken up by the Supreme Court in 2000, and CIR filed an amicus brief on the side of the scouts. The Court decided that the goals of the organization to instill values in young people gave them the right to use criteria for membership.