Since 1911, an oath has informed the work of the Boy Scouts of America. This oath has shaped the character and good habits of generations of young men. Since the beginning and without interruption, scouts have been required to swear: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." Today, in New Jersey, that oath and the principles behind it are effectively voided.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the Scouts may no longer cling to this venerable moral standard and membership requirement. Against their own wishes and conscience, the Scouts are required to re-admit James Dale. Dale had been a scoutmaster who revealed his homosexuality in a 1990 public event at Rutgers University and in a newspaper article covering the event.
In accord with unvarying and old policy and principle, the scouts terminated Dale's voluntary leadership position. With lawyers from Lambda Legal Defense Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union backing him, Dale sued.
"We are satisfied that Boy Scouts' expulsion of Dale is based on little more than prejudice and not on a unified Boy Scout position," the court said in its decision. "Dale's expulsion is not justified by the need to preserve the organization's expressive rights."
Nonsense. The court's decision trammels on the rights of privacy, free association, and religious liberty to promote homosexuality as a civil right. And the implications of its ruling go far beyond the Boy Scouts.
Under American civil rights law, once a group becomes a protected minority, a myriad of constitutional forces are called to its defense. In employment, housing, lending, and several other areas, private actions by private individuals are firmly controlled by government agencies.
If homosexuality is granted this special status — as New Jersey's courts are attempting — it will affect every family in the land. Every boy will be taught in school that it is merely a matter of personal choice whether he marries a man or a woman. If the sex drive is removed from its context — the making and nurturing of children — what then is the ground for the obligation and authority of parents?
Furthermore, the New Jersey court said that the Scouts are a "place of public accomodation" because they have a broad-based membership and works closely with other public service groups.
In its present form, the law of public accomodation threatens to destroy the entire Bill of Rights. Yes, it is wrong and illegal for a theater or a restaurant to refuse admission to anyone on the ground of race. The Fourteenth Amendment forbids that and prescribes remedies to stop it.
But the Boy Scouts do not hang a sign to say that all may enter. As the name implies, they are looking first of all for boys. More specifically, the Boy Scouts are looking for boys who will promise to follow the creed that makes scouting what it is. If a boy will not make that promise, then the scouts have nothing to offer him. In his own interest, and more importantly in the interest of the boys who do so pledge, he must be excluded. We can only change that by destroying scouting.
The rights of Boy Scouts, not of James Dale, are being violated. Each of us has in nature, and under our Constitution, the right to associate with whom we please. The High Court has said that the right to associate means necessarily the right not to associate, too. If that right cannot be protected here, it cannot be protected anywhere. Indeed, churches themselves will be next.
Now Dale's case likely will go to the United States Supreme Court. Only the good judgment of those nine justices stands between the ACLU and the death of scouting as it has been practiced for almost a century.
This news gives the citizens of the United States plenty to do. It is time now for them to gather their thoughts around the fundamental purposes of the government. According to Abraham Lincoln our Union was "conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Is it still? It can remain so only if those rights are safely grounded in the thing that abides, the common nature of man, in which our rights are defined and by which they are justified. That nature includes how we come to be, both through conception and birth, and through care and instruction in good habit and the practice of virtue. There is no liberty without morality. There is no morality without nature.
We need not wait to upon the doubtful courts to answer this question upon which all depends. When a state fails to protect the rights of its citizens in such an essential matter, the Fourteenth Amendment grants Congress power to require better policy. The year 2000 will be an important year. President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act a few years ago, which said that states could prohibit homosexual marriage. Maybe the next president will sign a Defense of the Boy Scouts Act.
We must hope for that, and also for a good decision by the Supreme Court.