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Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2000 / 4 Elul, 5760

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Scouting out justice -- Last June, President Clinton issued an executive order saying that no government agency may participate in "education and training" programs with groups that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Alas, since it's not clear what education and training actually means, the Justice Department is preparing guidelines for all federal agencies so that they can be sure they're not aiding and abetting bigotry in some way. That all sounds fine and dandy, until you discover the actual consequences of all this.

One agency couldn't wait for the Justice Department guidelines to come out, so it decided to launch its own internal inquiry. The Reclamation Bureau of the Interior Department - whatever that is - is worried that it might be providing aid and comfort to one of those awful hate groups we hear about so often. I am referring, of course, to the Boy Scouts of America.

Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts can deny openly gay men from being scoutmasters. In the wake of that ruling, activists have been on a jihad to discredit the private organization.

The New York Times recently ran a nearly gleeful front-page story explaining how the Boy Scouts are being shunned by cities like Chicago and San Francisco where they are no longer allowed to use local parks or schools. The Reclamation Bureau's inquiry into the Boy Scouts seems to be the first step toward similar action at the federal level.

Of special interest to the bureau is whether it's OK for the organization to have its quadrennial Boy Scout Jamboree at an Army post in Virginia. In a memo obtained by The Washington Times, the bureau's civil rights office asked its officers to "identify and explain" all of its activities with the Boy Scouts, "including but not limited to, the Boy Scout Jamboree." The civil rights office also wants to know if the bureau sponsors any troops or provides any awards or patches to the Scouts.

Now, these are not the sorts of questions you ask if you think it's just fine for the federal government to be working with the Boy Scouts. They are the equivalent of a cop asking you, "Do you have any stolen property in your home?" Or "Please list all of the stolen property in your home."

The situation with the Boy Scouts began because one openly gay man, James Dale, was denied the opportunity to be a Scout leader. Dale went on to become a proud gay activist, leading the charge to open the Scouts to gays through his lawsuit.

If the Supreme Court decision had gone the other way, it would no doubt have been hailed as a monumental triumph for civil rights and human freedom. But freedom of association is a civil right, too. And thousands of Scouts want to exercise that freedom (and a majority of Americans support the Scouts' position).

Gays have rights because they are human beings, just like the rest of us. But that doesn't mean that every organization in the world must accept them wholeheartedly. Discrimination is not necessarily bigotry, and, besides, bigotry is not illegal.

The Daughters of the American Revolution discriminates against men. The Catholic Church accepts only Catholics as nuns, and the Nation of Islam is picky about accepting Jews. Poor people can't join expensive men's clubs, and people in wheelchairs can't play professional baseball.

And, it should be pointed out, there are gay groups that do not admit heterosexuals. But all of these people have the same rights, just not the same opportunities.

Sure, this might not be fair to people like James Dale who want to be Scout leaders. But is that any reason to tear apart the Boy Scouts? Is that fair to the tens of thousands of kids - many of them poor inner-city kids - who have never even heard of James Dale?

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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