The case of Boy Scouts of America (BSA) v. Dale was a controversial case decided in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the unanimous decision by the New Jersey Court and ruled that because the Boy Scouts association was a private organization it had constitutional tight to remove openly gay persons from leadership positions. The petitioners in this case were the BSA and their Monmouth Council. The organization was a private non-profit making whose work was to instill values in the youth. This organization emphasizes that homosexuality is not consistent with the values it aims at instilling. The respondent in this case was James Dale, who had joined the BSA in 1978 at 8 years. He had later become a Boy Scout and eventually rose to the position of an Eagle Scout due to his exemplary character. Dale applied and was approved for adult membership in 1989. However, after Dale attended a seminar about gays and lesbians in 1990, he was ejected from scouting by the BSA officials (Lester, 2000). The officials had read an article about the seminar in a local newspaper where Dale stated he was gay. Dale filed a suit against the officials in the New Jersey state court claiming that BSA had violated the New Jersey’s law against discrimination. This case brought a lot of controversy with the Supreme Court ruling otherwise. This paper analyses this case and the controversy around the issue.
Interpretation of the first amendment
“The first amendment of the Boy Scouts protects the freedom of speech, press, and assembly” (Powers, 2001, p.399). The New Jersey Court ruled that application of the law was not against the first amendment of the Boy Scout’s right to expressive association. The court held that by revoking Dale’s membership based on his homosexual conduct violated the New Jersey’s public accommodation law. The BSA had disregarded the law that prevented discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation in public accommodation places.
The court interpreted the first amendment by claiming that inclusion of Dale in the organization would not affect the ability of other members to carry out their purposes. The court held that the state of New Jersey had a strong interest in getting rid of destructive effects of discrimination from the society. The New Jersey court also claimed that reinstating Dale to the organization did not require the BSA to express any message and thus it did not violate the first amendment.
Previously, the trial court had dismissed Dale’s case on the ground that BSA had explicitly excluded any homosexuals in their organization. This trial court found that reinstating Dale to the organization would violate its first amendment on the freedom of association. The New Jersey’s Law against Discrimination (LAD) was not applicable to Dale’s case as the organization was not a public accommodation place. Therefore, since BSA was a private organization, it would have been against the first amendment of expressive association to force it to accept a homosexual scoutmaster. On the contrary, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the trial court was wrong in the interpretation of the law and that BSA was a place of public accommodation. This court held that the association had more than 100,000 members in New Jersey alone, which showed the public nature of BSA and hence it was a public accommodation place (Smart, 2001). According to the New Jersey court, BSA did not show that it was wholly a private association. Therefore, based on the first amendment of freedom of expression and association, BSA did not deserve any constitutional protection.
The United States Supreme Court (2001), on the other hand, disagreed with the ruling of the New Jersey Court and held that the LAD violated the first amendment. The interpretation of the first amendment by this court was clear. This court ruled that if the organization accepted Dale as an assistant scoutmaster, it would undermine its freedom of expressive association as protected by the constitution. The court held that BSA was a private organization and that homosexuality was inconsistent with the values that it sought to instill in its young people. Thus, having Dale in the organization would mean that BSA accepted homosexual conduct as proper form of behavior.
In making this decision, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court asserted that forcing an organization to include an unwanted individual in a group was against the association’s freedom of expressive association. The presence of Dale in the organization would have significantly affected the group’s ability to express public and private viewpoints (Lester, 2000). In interpreting the first amendment, the Supreme Court stressed that BSA engaged in expressive activities by seeking to instill moral values to the youth. Thus, this expressive activity would be cut short if the association had to accept self-confessed homosexuals as members despite the association’s policy to the contrary.
In addition, the chief justice asserted that the involvement of a self-confessed gay activist would affect significantly the ability of BSA to advocate private or public viewpoints. Application of the LAD in this case would burden significantly the ability of BSA to oppose homosexuality to members of the public and other young people.
Issues that influenced the court’s decision
Several issues influenced the court’s decision on the case between BSA and Dale. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in favor of Dale because it found that exclusion of a member based only on their sexual orientation was against the BSA commitment to a representative membership. Another issue that led to this decision was that the Scout oath and law did not expressly mention an individual’s sexual orientation (Smart, 2001). Even though the Scout law describes morally straight and clean, these terms did not expressly refer to homosexual behavior. This court argued that different people would interpret these terms differently and thus ruled in favor of Dale. For instance, the court said that some people would believe that being homosexual did not mean a person was not morally straight or clean. Others may believe that engaging in homosexual behavior was contrary to being clean and morally straight. Therefore, since the organization did not expressly prohibit one’s sexual orientation, that fact influenced the court’s decision that Dale should be reinstated.
The U.S. Supreme Court (2001) on the contrary ruled that if applied, the LAD would violate BSA’s first amendment on the freedom of expressive association as protected by the constitution. This decision was influenced by the majority vote that held that since BSA was a private organization, it had the right to exclude members from its leadership position openly declared their homosexuality. Other cases decided earlier also influenced the court’s decision. The court decided to settle on this decision because the organization had protection from the constitution. Additionally, according to BSA, homosexuality was against the Scout Law to be morally straight and clean.
Why the case was controversial
The Boy Scouts of America v. Dale case caused controversy in the state with judges coming up with dissenting opinions about the case. The case was so controversial because it revolved around the issue of sexuality. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the organization, controversy began. This court held that BSA did not have an obligation to reinstate Dale after his public declaration on his homosexuality. However, gay activists did not take this decision lightly since homosexuals also had rights and thus discriminating someone based on their sexual orientation was against their rights.
In addition, the case was controversial because people interpreted the circumstances of the case differently. “The Scout Oath and Law set out principles of behavior among its members, among them morally straight and clean” (Smart, 2001, p.389). According to opponents of the ruling, these two principles did not have the slightest connection to homosexuality. Further, all the terms expressed in the Scout’s Oath and Law were not associated in any way with homosexuality. Therefore, the court’s ruling was against the rights of Dale.
Opponents of the ruling asserted that BSA had asked its leaders not to discuss sexual matters with the scouts. The scouts were to acquire their sex education from school or home but not from the association. For the curious teenagers, the scoutmasters would direct them to a professional doctor or religious leaders for guidance. Thus, scoutmasters would not provide any advice on sexual issues to the scouts. Thus, opponents of the ruling and gay activists resented the decision by the court not to reinstate Dale because of his sexual orientation. Most of these people and other organizations had second thoughts about being associated with BSA.
According to many organizations in opposition to the ruling, the case was controversial because it violated the law against discrimination. The association revoked Dale’s membership because of his sexual orientation and his avowed homosexuality. However, revoking membership on this ground was equal to discrimination based on sexuality. This decision resulted to controversy because homosexuals have rights, which should be protected under the constitution but the court was violating these rights with its ruling.
Comparison to other cases
Several cases support the decision that the U.S. Supreme Court made in favor for BSA. The court relied on a previously decided case about Roberts v. United States Jaycees. This case held that the first amendment protected the right to engage in activities and it also gives the right of association with others. This right is vital in preventing the majority people from imposing their view on associations that would rather express unpopular ideas. The decision on the Robert’s case was that some government actions may overwhelm unconstitutionally the freedom of association by intruding into the internal affairs of an organization. Some of these internal affairs include forcing an organization to accept certain members who may the group’s ability to express views that it intends to express. In the Robert’s case, the Jaycee’s had not demonstrated any adverse burden on the freedom of expressive association for the male members.
In making its decision, the New Jersey court also relied on the case of Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc (Powers, 2001). This case was in favor of the BSA because it supported the exclusion of Dale with support from the first amendment. However, the court ruled that Hurley did not need to decide the case in favor of BSA because reinstating Dale would not force the BSA to express any message.
Another case in support for the court’s decision was the case of New York State Club Assn., Inc. v. City of New York. This case argued that forced inclusion of someone not wanted in an organization violates the freedom of expressive expression of that group if the presence of that individual in the association significantly affects the ability of the organization to advocate private or public points of view. However, the court in this case ruled that freedom was not unconditional and certain factors could override this freedom. Such factors could include regulations taken to serve compelling interests of the state.
A California case between Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of Boy Scouts of America also supported the decision of the court (U.S. Supreme Court, 2001). This case had similar facts with that of Dale and the BSA had asserted the same position with reference to homosexuality as it held currently. The court made its decision not to reinstate Dale because his presence in the association would hinder the ability of BSA to not promote homosexual behavior as proper behavior. The Curran case had similar facts and the BSA had held its view of excluding homosexuals in its association because it would go against the values the organization sought to instill in its young people.
Impact of the decision on society
The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that BSA had the constitutional right not to reinstate Dale to the association had great impact on the society. The court had interpreted the first amendment by claiming that the freedom of expressive association would be affected had BSA reinstated Dale who was a homosexual. This decision caused controversy in the society because of associations in support of gay rights.
The court’s decision stimulated many community associations and governments to question their relationships with the BSA. The question in most of these associations was why the BSA discriminated on its members based on an individual’s sexual orientation. Most of these associations eventually dropped their relationships with BSA. In addition, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, that had 117 members disregarded the scout policy.
Additionally, Cub Scout Pack 5 of Montclair distributed petitions opposing the Boy Scout of America’s anti-gay position. These petitions had great impact especially for the association, as its reputation was undermined. Besides, many companies and charitable organizations in the United States either cut their funding or removed it completely from the association (Lester, 2000). The decision by the court also affected other scouting organizations because the society viewed them all as anti-gay. At one point, a Princeton scout association was denied the chance to use a borough park lot for its sale of Christmas tree.
The court’s decision affected the way the society viewed homosexuals and their rights. After the ruling by the court, national debate about the needs of homosexual youth and the fitness of homosexual adults to participate in the iconic BSA advanced. Most individuals and associations were in support for Dale and argued against discrimination. Because of the court’s decision, government and non-governmental associations decided not only to be affiliated to BSA but also to other scouting associations. However, to mitigate this impact, BSA decided to set up separate learning programs that would not discriminate against persons based on their sexual position and this helped in maintaining ties.
Interpretation of the constitution
In my opinion, the court interpreted the constitution effectively by deciding that the BSA did not have an obligation to reinstate Dale in the association. The first amendment of the constitution gave the freedom of association, speech and press. Therefore, if BSA had reinstated Dale, this would have violated the freedom of expressive association, which is a constitutional right. Thus, the court made the best decision by interpreting the constitution in that manner. The constitution gave BSA the right to prohibit homosexuals from becoming troop leaders. Even though the decision would support discrimination, the constitution gave certain exceptions to which the court could violate that right such as the circumstances in this case.
Significance of the case
The case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale had great significance in the society and on the views of anti-gay activists. The case was significant in setting precedents for other future similar cases. It was also important in pioneering movements in support for gay rights, as many government and charitable associations came out in support for the rights of gay individuals (Powers, 2001). The case was important in ensuring that in future, scouts associations would stop discriminating on their members based on someone’s sexual orientation. The case ensured that other Boy Scouts associations set aside educational programs that would not discriminate leaders based on their sexual orientation.
In conclusion, despite the controversy surrounding this case, BSA was able to raise their profits for national operations from $91 to $93 million in the following year after the court’s decision. However, the association lost most of its members and funding from other organizations. The anti-gay standpoint of the Boy Scouts of America made many people, institutions to stand up, and advocate for the rights of homosexuals to avoid their discrimination.
Lester, M.L. & Julie, L.W. (2000). High Court Deserves No Merit Badge for Boy Scouts of
America v. Dale. New Jersey Law Journal, 161.
Powers, E.A. (2001). Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. Florida Law Review, 53, 399.
Smart, C.W. (2001). Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. Florida Law Review, 53, 389.
United States Supreme Court. (2001). Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000). University
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