Religious Groups Split on Boy Scout Case

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - A Supreme Court case heard last week on whether the Boy Scouts must accept homosexuals as scoutmasters has divided the religious community, with one church threatening to withdraw its boys from the organization if the Court rules against the BSA.

The case, Boys Scouts of America v. Dale, from the New Jersey Supreme Court, was heard last Wednesday. The New Jersey court concluded last year that the BSA was a "public accommodation" subject to that state's anti-discrimination laws, which prohibits exclusion based on sexual orientation.

James Dale, a former Eagle Scout and assistant scoutmaster in Matawan, NJ, sued the Scouts after he was removed from his leadership for publicly declaring his homosexuality in a local newspaper.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, said in an amicus brief that it would "would withdraw from Scouting if it were compelled to accept openly homosexual Scout leaders."

"The Scouting movement as now constituted will cease to exist," attorney Von G. Keetch in the church's brief if the Court forces the BSA to accept homosexual leaders.

The Mormon Church was joined in that brief by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, the General Commission on United Methodist Men of the United Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the National Council of Young Israel.

The Mormon Church sponsors more Scout troops than any other organization, and many Mormon boys aged 12-18 are required to participate. Scout leader positions in Mormon troops are religious posts filled by local bishops.

The United Methodist Church sponsors 424,000 Scouts, more individual members than any other church. Catholic parishes sponsor 355,000 Scouts.

The Reverend Rob Schenck, general secretary of the National Clergy Council, attended oral arguments in Dale last Wednesday, and spoke to members of the media afterwards.

"Should the Court decide in favor of Mr. Dale, it will deal irreparable damage to the moral tenor and belief systems of countless religious organizations, including many churches and church organizations," said Schenck.

Richard Land, director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that the "the assertion that the state has a 'compelling interest' in protecting the civil rights of those whose sexual preference is homosexual to the exclusion of the constitutional rights of free expression of another's religious convictions . . . is almost beyond belief."

However, other religious organizations are joining Dale in his case.

The Unitarian Universalist Association filed an amicus brief, saying, "Far from being a religious ministry with a particular view of morality, Scouting is a non-sectarian organization with room for the government and for a variety of moral viewpoints, no single one of which justifies excluding our boys or adult participants from Scouting."

The Unitarians were joined by the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ Board for Homeland Ministries, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, NJ.

The Unitarian Church has been involved in an ongoing dispute with the BSA over the church's position on gay Scouts since 1998. That year, the BSA rescinded the church's authority to award the denomination's Religion in Life emblem, citing their support for Dale and other gay Scouts and Scout leaders.