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Jewish World Review August 31, 2000 / 30 Menachem-Av, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Consumer Reports

Sins of the Scouts -- IF THERE IS one article of faith that stands above all others in the creed of the new American establishment, it is that of Tolerance.

It is the universal and paramount virtue, so embraced by the institutions of politics, the corporate world, the info-entertainment industry and the academy as to be unchallengeable. We are all tolerant now; IBM is tolerant; the Republican Party is tolerant. We are so tolerant that, increasingly, we cannot tolerate any views that challenge our tolerance.

In Tuesday's New York Times, there appeared a front-page story that was in part a report, in part a pronouncement from on high and in part a call to arms. The story, running under the headline "Scouts' Successful Ban on Gays Is Followed by Loss in Support," reports that "corporate and governmental support" for the Boy Scouts of America has "slipped markedly" since a June 28 Supreme Court ruling which affirmed, 5 to 4, that the organization has the constitutional right to exclude an avowed homosexual from the position of scout leader.

A brief history: In 1978, James Dale joined the Boy Scouts, a private association with a mission: "To instill values in young people." The values that the Scouts seek to instill are old ones, and old-fashioned ones. Among the promises each Scout swears to in his induction oath is to be "clean in word and deed," and "morally straight."

It is obviously arguable that there is no contradiction between being "clean in word and deed" and "morally straight" and being gay. But that is not how the Scouts see it. In 1978, the year Dale joined, the association held (as it still does) the position that avowed homosexuals may not be scout leaders, and thus charged with the moral instruction of scouts, because they were not, by example, expounding the values that the Scouts wished to impart.

Dale, who rose through the Scouts, is gay. He became a gay activist, the co-president of a gay and lesbian organization in college, and, in his words, one of the "leaders in their community . . . [who] are open and honest about their sexual orientation." He became, at least by example, the active proponent of values that were in direct opposition to those espoused by the Scouts.

So the Scouts denied Dale the privilege of serving as an assistant scoutmaster--an instructor of values in their association. Dale sued, and the case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale eventually made its way to the Supreme Court.

There, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the scant majority, found that the Boy Scouts of America was a private "expressive association"; that one of the values it sought to express to young people was to "be clean in word and deed"; that it did not see homosexual conduct as compatible with that value; and that its right to express and protect this value was covered by the First Amendment, regardless of whether anyone else approved.

"It is not the role of the courts to reject a group's expressed values because they disagree with those values or find them internally inconsistent," wrote Rehnquist. And he also wrote: "Dale's presence in the Boy Scouts would . . . force the organization to send a message, both to the youth members and the world, that the Boy Scouts accepts homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior." This, he said, would "surely interfere with the Boy Scouts' choice not to propound a point of view contrary to its beliefs." So that is the law: The Boy Scouts of America have a right not to be forced to support values with which they do not agree.

Law, shmaw. The establishment, the Times reports, will not tolerate the Boy Scouts' constitutionally protected expression of its values. Chicago, San Francisco and San Jose are refusing to allow Scout troops to use municipal sites for camping and rallies, and Connecticut has forbidden its employees to contribute to the Scouts through a charity drive administered by the state. Some United Way chapters are refusing to give contributions to local Scout councils unless they sign statements disavowing support for the national association's position. Not mentioned in the Times' story as evidence of "a loss in support" was an Aug. 17 poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates, which found 56 percent of registered voters agreed with the Supreme Court decision, as opposed to 36 percent in disagreement.

Citing no source, the Times noted, without a dissenting opinion, that "some companies and organizations say the Scouts' refusal to admit gays has come to seem almost un-American." Almost un-American. Well, we can't have that. It's a big country and G-d Bless the Framers, and all due respect to the Supreme Court. But one thing we just don't have room for are values and behavior that are "almost un-American."

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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