Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Sept. 18, 2000 / 17 Elul, 5760

Philip Terzian

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Today, Dr. Laura.
Tomorrow ... -- IF YOU HAVE ever wondered what comprehensive federal hate-crime legislation might look like, consider the predicament of the Boy Scouts.

Since their founding early last century, the Scouts have forbidden homosexuals from serving as adult leaders. This is an expedient that seems to agree with most parents of Scouts and is, if the polls are reliable, supported by a large majority of Americans. We have a long tradition in our country of free association, and if private organizations such as the Boy Scouts wish to impose limitations in accordance with their standards, that is their right. This past spring that constitutional principle was upheld -- rather narrowly, it is true, but upheld nonetheless -- by the U.S. Supreme Court, and efforts to legally coerce the Boy Scouts were stymied.

In the past, most Americans displeased by such strictures would have followed Groucho Marx's sage advice: I would not wish to join a club, he once declared, that would admit me as a member. People who disapproved of the Boy Scouts simply stayed away, content to find happiness in more congenial surroundings.

But we live in a very different era than Groucho's, and people whose standards or opinions don't match ours -- or are thought to be, somehow, morally inferior -- must be punished, not ignored. And just as President Andrew Jackson once defied Chief Justice John Marshall to enforce his judgment (against the forced removal of Indians) the Clinton administration has chosen to harass the Boy Scouts. The Interior Department, at the direction of Secretary Bruce Babbitt, is looking into orders to prevent Scouts from using parks and public lands for their activities. There was a brief investigation by Janet Reno's Justice Deprtment as to whether the use of acreage at Fort A.P. Hill for the annual jamboree was permissible. (The Scouts, it was decided, pose no imminent danger.) A color guard of Boy Scouts was booed by delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

A hater-in-training?

Now, whenever two or three forward-thinking people are assembled to deplore bigotry in America, the Boy Scouts are invoked, along with the Ku Klux Klan. This has prompted the herd of independent minds who manage corporate America to run for cover. Various agencies of the United Way have stricken the Boy Scouts from their charitable rolls, and companies have severed their historic affiliations.

In the short run, to be sure, such treatment has benefited the Boy Scouts. Like the National Rifle Association, which is similarly demonized, the Scouts are now posting record numbers of enrollment -- some 6.2 million members, at last count. Yet there are shadows in the picture which ought to worry civil libertarians. When we talk about intolerance in America, we tend to think of the 17th-century Puritans or (nowadays) the Religious Right. But McCarthyism, as it were, is a province of the Left. Nowhere are standards of conformity on social and political questions enforced with such rigidity as in progressive circles. Dissent is not greeted with indulgence, but discipline, and disagreement is handled with absolute proscription.

A good example is the censorship campaign now being waged by gay rights organizations against Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the radio talk show dispenser of advice. I am not among Dr. Laura's millions of fans, but am happy to acknowledge the vacuum she has filled: An Orthodox Jew who bases her convictions on religious authority and historic experience, she upholds traditional standards of social, sexual and marital conduct. When it was announced last year that her radio program would be augmented by a television show, a "Stop Dr. Laura" web site was launched, and pressure was exerted on potential corporate sponsors to withdraw their patronage.

Her detractors were clever, in that sense. They did not emphasize that they disagreed with Dr. Laura's prescriptions; they claimed that Dr. Laura is a purveyor of "hate," a muddy (and in this case preposterous) slander. But the hucksters were intimidated -- Geico, Procter & Gamble, and others all hastened to put Dr. Laura on the blacklist -- and the future of her TV show is problematical.

Especially in a democracy, there is peril when convictions are subject to sanction. Hate crimes are not meant to punish malefactors -- the killers of James Byrd and Matthew Shephard, for example, face life imprisonment or execution -- but to penalize incorrect attitudes. Yet fashions change. Demonize the Boy Scouts, censor Dr. Laura, but in time the creature will devour its creators. Who is to say that crimes against Republicans, or opponents of abortion, or people who preach premarital abstinence, might not someday be regarded as evidence of hate?

Freedom is sacrificed when laws govern thought.

JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.


09/12/00: What passes for knowledge
09/05/00: The catcher gets caught
08/31/00: A Golden Age that never was
08/28/00: Blame communism, not Russia
08/24/00: Social progress on one front, regression on the other
08/21/00: The beat goes awry
08/17/00: The unwelcome democrat

© 2000, Philip Terzian