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Courts in two states gave conflicting rulings in March as to whether the Boy Scouts of America is exempt from civil-rights laws in restricting its membership.

On March 23, the California Supreme Court ruled that Boy Scouts can bar homosexuals, atheists, or agnostics because the group as a private association is exempt from civil-rights laws.

However, on March 2, the New Jersey Court of appeals ruled that the 1990 dismissal of homosexual Scout leader James Dale was "wrongful and discriminatory."

Scouts spokesperson Gregg Shields says the New Jersey ruling will be appealed. "The group has a right as a voluntary organization to teach youth the traditional values that it has taught since 1910 and to establish membership and leadership standards."

The Boy Scout oath acknowledges a duty to God and requires scouts to keep "physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight." Dale contended that homosexuality is not immoral.

In a lower court ruling in 1995, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Patrick McGann said the Boy Scouts were within their rights as a private association to remove Dale, now 27, as assistant scoutmaster.

However, the three-judge appeals court determined that the Boy Scouts are a "public accommodation" and had violated antidiscrimination laws. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice says there is precedent for winning at the highest court. In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a veterans group did not have to include homosexuals in its Saint Patrick's Day parade.

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In the Magazine

April 27, 1998

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