WASHINGTON (June 28, 2000) -- Mark E. Chopko, General Counsel of the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) issued a statement on the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.
USCC is the national level action agency of the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Last March USCC filed an amicus curiae brief which asked the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court that the Boy Scouts violated state law in terminating the services of a self-described gay activist who was an assistant scoutmaster.
This is the text of Mr. Chopko's statement:
Today the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in a case between the Boy Scouts of America and a former Assistant Scoutmaster James Dale. It affirmed the right of the Scouts to select or reject its leaders based on whether they act in accord with the beliefs of the organization. In rejecting Mr. Dale's claimed right to hold a Scoutmaster position, the Court affirms the rights of private organizations over the assertions of government in policing their internal business, especially who is qualified to serve as a leader.
It is unfortunate that this case arose because of a conflict between a gay man, Mr. Dale, and the Scouts, because this case was portrayed as one about the rights of homosexual persons. In my view this case was about something entirely different: a clash between the asserted power of government and the rights of self-governance of private organizations. It was on that basis only that the Catholic Conference, and the New Jersey Catholic Bishops, participated in the case. Church teaching is clear that every individual is entitled to be treated as a unique person with God-given rights and responsibilities. The Church has spoken directly to the pastoral care of homosexual persons and their families. The Conference's Committee on Marriage and Family has addressed this situation in Always Our Children. Nothing in the Conference's brief repudiates or undermines any of this teaching or practice.
This case was about one simple question: "who decides?" Does the State have the power to set aside the leadership qualification decisions of a private organization using the State's, not the group's, yardstick? If the State has that power, it has the ability to remake all private associations into public institutions. Regardless of the position one takes on a variety of issues where people of good will may disagree, including the civil rights of homosexual persons, one must ask whether it is appropriate to invoke the power of the government to dismantle the preferences of a private organization. Churches have historically been especially sensitive to the assertion of supervening public authority. The Supreme Court's decision holds that there are limits on the power of government. On balance, this is a victory for the civil and religious liberties of every person.