WASHINGTON (March 14, 2000) -- The United States Catholic Conference (USCC) and New Jersey Catholic Conference have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court that the Boy Scouts violated state law in terminating the volunteer services of a self-described gay activist who was an Assistant Scoutmaster.
In an amicus curiae brief in the case of Boy Scouts of America and Monmouth Council v. James Dale, the Catholic organizations emphasized that the case is not about discrimination against homosexuals, but about the First Amendment right of a private organization to decide what its beliefs are and who will represent those beliefs.
"We believe...that private associations may not be ordered to retain a leader who has acted contrary to an association's mission and purpose," the brief said. "This principle finds application in both common law and constitutional law, for to penalize a private institution for terminating a leader who acts contrary to the institution's moral code offends the First Amendment."
"The Boy Scouts of America, like many organizations, including many religious groups, teaches that homosexual conduct is wrong," the brief continued. "Whether one agrees with that message is irrelevant, as the First Amendment broadly protects the dissemination of messages, even those that some might think to be out of vogue."
"For the judiciary effectively to direct the Boy Scouts to convey, through its Scout leadership, another and directly contrary message is indefensible and threatens the integrity of a wide range of American institutions," the brief continued. "Churches and religious organizations and other groups that exist to promote strong social and moral messages, and take firm stands in support of those messages, are particularly at risk."
Stating that an organization "that genuinely believes in its own values will select leaders who demonstrate those values in word and deed," the brief declared: "Otherwise any organization would be at risk of being...'hijacked' by those with opposing views and turned to the service of the very concepts it most opposes. Whether the judiciary will countenance and enforce such stratagems is the primary question posed by the instant case. This court should declare that such efforts, when aided by state law, are unconstitutional."
The brief said the New Jersey Supreme Court stretched words beyond their meaning when it ruled that the Boy Scouts of America was a "place of public accomodation" as defined in a New Jersey antidiscrimination statute. As such, that court found that the Boy Scouts could not discriminate in its selection of scout leaders. In practice, this meant that the Boy Scouts was prohibited from removing the plaintiff, James Dale, from a position as an Assistant Scoutmaster.
Mr. Dale was a "gay activist" who had stated that he intended to present himself as a "role model" for youth, and had begun litigation against the Boy Scouts to prove how "bad and wrong" their policy was of prohibiting known homosexuals from serving in troop leader positions. "By definition, private associations are just that, 'private' groups of like-minded citizens formed for limited purposes, to undertake a particular purpose or espouse a particular creed or mission," the brief continued. "One may not always agree with the message or its appropriateness, but the First Amendment protects persons' right to organize and profess what they believe without penalty from the government."
"No organization may be ordered to retain a leader who affirmatively acts contrary to the beliefs and values of the organization," the brief said. "Every organization has the right to decide for itself the content of its own beliefs without having to submit to the sabatoge of those who would challenge or undercut them. For a court to order private associations' policies and views to be overridden in such an instance implicates the courts in a potentially unconstitutional exercise."
"The decision of the Supreme Court of New Jersey threatens the ability of a broad range of social, political, and religious groups to define their own missions and purposes and retain leaders willing to implement them," the brief concluded. "It defies common sense to force a group to retain a leader who has publicly stated he wants to change the group because he believes its views are wrong. If a State nonetheless asserts it has that power, then the exercise of that power must be restrained by the Constitution."
Oral argument in the case has been scheduled for April 26 with a ruling expected by the end of the Court's term.
The entire brief will be posted on the USCC/OCG website, at www.nccbuscc.org/ogc/amicuscuriae.shtml.