Lambda Wins First Major Court Ruling Against Anti-Gay Boy Scouts Policy
(NEW YORK, Monday, March 2, 1998)-- Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund on Monday won the first appellate court victory in the country against the Boy Scouts of America's policy of anti-gay discrimination. The Appellate Division of New Jersey's Superior Court ruled in favor of a gay Eagle Scout, who challenged his expulsion by the Boy Scouts of America as a violation of New Jersey's anti-discrimination law.
"Today's ruling returns the Boy Scouts to the kind of organization that its members already believe it is -- one that is truly open to all boys and promotes self-reliance and respect for the rights of others," said Evan Wolfson, Lambda senior staff attorney.
Wolfson argued the case, Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, to the New Jersey Appellate Division in Hackensack, New Jersey, on December 8, 1997.
James Dale was invited to become an assistant scoutmaster after compiling an exemplary scout record and earning the prestigious Eagle Scout Badge. However, he was abruptly expelled in 1990, after BSA officials learned from a college newspaper story that he was gay. Dale filed his lawsuit for reinstatement in the BSA in 1992, in the first case to invoke New Jersey's law prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination.
Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart said, "The court has recognized that exempting the Scouts from the law would, in the court's words, 'frustrate our goal of eradicating the cancer of discrimination in New Jersey.' As a New Jersey native myself, I am proud to see this state continue to set an excellent example for the rest of the nation."
Lambda Staff Attorney David Buckel has assisted in the case. Lambda represents Dale along with co-counsel Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton of New York and Lewis Robertson, Esq., of New Jersey. A number of professional associations and religious groups, as well as lesbian and gay organizations, submitted amicus briefs in support of Dale.
In its 54-page ruling, the court also said:
"There is absolutely no evidence before us, empirical or otherwise, supporting a conclusion that a gay scoutmaster, solely because he is a homosexual, does not possess the strength of character necessary to properly care for, or to impart BSA humanitarian ideals to the young boys in his charge. Nothing before us even suggests that a male, simply because he is gay, will somehow undermine BSA's fundamental beliefs and teachings. Plaintiff's exemplary journey through the BSA ranks is testament enough that these stereotypical notions about homosexuals must be rejected. ...
"In our view, there is a patent inconsistency in the notion that a gay scout leader who keeps his 'secret' hidden may remain in scouting and the one who adheres to the scout laws by being honest and courageous enough to declare his homosexuality publicly must be expelled...."
In 1995, with a harshly worded opinion, peppered with biblical allusions and references to "sodomy" and "buggery," a lower court ruled against Dale, refusing to apply the New Jersey anti-discrimination law to the Boy Scouts and generally ignoring the case law governing other discrimination claims in New Jersey. The lower court also evaded the standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court for determining when organizations are expressive associations and thus have first amendment protection to discriminate.
Dale, now 27, said, "The court today has taught the Boy Scouts the same lesson I learned in 12 years of Scouting. I look forward to the chance now to continue to serve with the fine people who make up this organization."
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Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585, 888-987-1984 pager, Evan Wolfson, 212-809-8585