Panel debates dismissal of gay Boy Scout leader

Whether the Boy Scouts of America should allow gays to be scout leaders depends on how closely the organization resembles Travel Lodge, four panelists said Wednesday night.

A panel of two professors and two students debated whether the Boy Scouts is a private or public organization before about 75 people Wednesday in University Hall.

James Dale was an assistant scoutmaster 10 years ago when he was dismissed from a New Jersey Boy Scouts group after he advocated gay rights in a newspaper article.

When Dale took the case to court, the New Jersey Supreme Court voted unanimously that the Boy Scouts is a “public accommodation,” so state anti-discrimination laws apply. The case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

History Prof. Lane Fenrich, who moderated the debate and is gay, “came out” to the audience as an Eagle Scout before the event began.

“I’m James Dale’s stand-in for the evening,” he joked.

Law Prof. Thomas Merrill and Education sophomore Ezra Church argued for the Boy Scouts and said the New Jersey anti-discrimination laws were designed to apply to public accommodations with commercial transactions.

“This is not a state-action question,” Merrill said. “The Boy Scouts are not the Travel Lodge; they are a private organization.”

The free speech implications of this private status preclude any government interference as to who can serve as leaders, Church said.

“This case represents a dangerous precedent of government presence in a private organization,” said Church, who represented the College Republicans.

Weinberg junior Trace Johnson pointed out that the Boy Scouts are recognized as a for-profit organization because they raise funds, “utilize public accommodations” and “recruit massively in schools.”

“The danger of creating this public/private dichotomy opens a dangerous loophole (for legal gay discrimination),” he said.

“(A Supreme Court decision against Dale) would carve a massive loophole, creating a black hole for states’ anti-discrimination law,” said Prof. Stephen Daniels, a senior research fellow at the American Bar Foundation.

The Boy Scouts should be allowed to maintain a moral code that prohibits gay behavior, Church said.

“It’s a moral question,” he said. “People are so freaked out by discrimination — any setting apart is mean and unkind. They take a tolerance stick and beat people into their liberal, left-wing mold. … Forced diversity is not real diversity.”

The Boy Scouts is “an expressive organization” with an “avowed purpose to socialize young boys to grow up with certain character,” and therefore has the right to deem gays contrary to that purpose, Merrill said.

“To force them to take an unwanted message is a direct infringement on freedom of speech,” he said. “It’s a straight-out violation of the First Amendment.”

Daniels said reinstating Dale would not “undermine the Boy Scouts’ explicit purposes” because he was not imposing his sexual orientation.

“Reinstating Dale would not force the Boy Scouts to adopt homosexuality,” he said. “(Instead) it would teach (scouts) inclusion and respect for the law.”