WASHINGTON – In the end,is it an issue of morally right or “morally straight?”
In the Boy Scouts of America Scout Oath,scouts promise to be “morally straight.” But the state of Connecticut believes that can be morally wrong.
That disagreement has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court,and several legal experts Tuesday discussed Boy Scouts of America v. Nancy Wyman at an event sponsored by the Federalist Society,a group of lawyers,law students and others that believes in limited government.
The case challenges Connecticut's right to remove the Boy Scouts from a state charity drive because it bans homosexual members. The Supreme Court has not decided whether to hear the case.
“Who are the losers and who are the moral high-ground folks?” asked Erik Jaffe,a Washington lawyer. “That's not the issue. It's about speech. Neutrality. It's not about who's right.”
George Davidson,legal counsel for Boy Scouts of America,said a previous Supreme Court case involving gay membership in the Scouts was the “tip of an iceberg” and that more than two dozen cases attacking Boy Scouts' practices have been filed since.
In May 2000,Connecticut banned the Boy Scouts from participating in its state employees' charitable campaign,which includes about 900 other organizations. The Scouts had taken part in this campaign for 30 years when the state chose to exclude the group.
As long as the Boy Scouts continue to exclude gays,Connecticut will continue to exclude the group from the campaign,said C. Joan Parker,assistant counsel for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
“Connecticut did not say the Scouts Oath is discriminatory,” Parker said. “Their membership policies are exclusionary and that prompted Connecticut to exclude them.”
Nancy Wyman is one of the state officials who decided to exclude the Scouts.
The campaign had previously raised about $10,000 for Boy Scout councils in Connecticut,according to the Boy Scouts of America legal issues Web site. It also says other Boy Scout councils nationwide receive money through similar campaigns,so the issue is worth millions of dollars.
Some of the 900 other organizations participating in the Connecticut campaign,which is not funded by the state,discriminate by sex,age or other characteristics,Davidson said.
Parker said there is no evidence that any other organization discriminates. She said the distinction in the case is free expression versus membership and employment policies.
Jonathan Turley,a professor at George Washington University Law School,said he finds this one of the most difficult cases he has reviewed.
“I don't agree with the Boy Scouts policy,” Turley said,adding he is a father of three boys. “But that doesn't matter. This is a question of whether Boy Scouts has the right to have the exclusions – it does.”
In the Dale case,the Boy Scouts revoked James Dale's membership because Dale openly stated he was homosexual. The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 in favor of the Boy Scouts,claiming the First Amendment protected the Scouts' viewpoints.
Jaffe said the government should not get involved now and that Connecticut is wrong.
“If Connecticut is right,then Dale is wrong,” he said. “The government needs to be neutral.”
Connecticut claims the Boy Scouts' practices violate state law that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination.
About 14 states have laws protecting the rights of gays and lesbians,Parker said.
Parker said TV talk show host Bill O'Reilly recently asked her,“Why are you picking on the Boy Scouts?” She said she told him that Connecticut is not picking on the Boy Scouts but is trying to follow its laws.
The arguments brought up in the case are a good thing,according to Turley.
“It's better to have us all fighting,because that's how we get things done,” Turley said.