Boy Scouts don't have to allow gay scoutmasters
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that requiring the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to admit homosexual scout leaders "violates the Boy Scouts' First Amendment right of expressive association" as it "would significantly burden the organization's right to oppose or disfavor homosexual conduct." Then there's the ruling's not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that clause: "In so ruling, the Court is not guided by its view of whether the Boy Scouts' teachings with respect to homosexual conduct are right or wrong; public or judicial disapproval of an organization's expression does not justify the State's effort to compel the organization to accept members in derogation of the organization's expressive message." (Actually, that's more than just a statement assuring everyone that the Court's down with gays. The New Jersey Supreme Court had ruled that judicial disapproval did justify forcing the scouts to allow gay scoutmasters, saying such a ban was based "on little more than prejudice.") In the dissenting opinion, John Paul Stevens wrote that requiring the Boy Scouts to allow gay leaders "does not impose any serious burdens on BSA's … shared goals, nor does it force BSA to communicate any message that it does not wish to endorse." (See the Supreme Court decision and dissent in Acrobat format at the official Supreme Court site, or in HTML here.) For media coverage, see The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Washington Times, The [Newark] Star-Ledger (with sidebars on James Dale's reaction and judicial reasoning), and The [Baltimore] Sun. Christianity Today's earlier coverage of the case is available here.Partial-birth abortion ban struck down
In another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Nebraska's ban on partial-birth abortions as unconstitutional. "Because all those who perform abortion procedures using the … method must fear prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment, the Nebraska law imposes an undue burden upon a woman's right to make an abortion decision," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the majority. Each of the four dissenters wrote their own opinions, but none was so harsh as that of Antonin Scalia, who wrote, "I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in the history of this Court's jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott. The method of killing a human child—one cannot even accurately say an entirely unborn human child—proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion." (See the official opinions here if you have the Acrobat plug-in, otherwise go here.) For media coverage, see The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times (which has a sidebar on reaction to the decision), and the Omaha World-Herald (which has several related articles).Religious schools can receive public instructional materials
In a 6-3 decision, the court allowed public school systems to lend library books, computers and other instructional items to religious schools. "Nothing in the Establishment Clause requires the exclusion of pervasively sectarian schools from otherwise permissible aid programs," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas. "This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now." (The official opinions are here in Acrobat form, and here in HTML.) "The decision appeared likely to provide momentum for the drive to legalize the use of vouchers for religious-school tuition and provide ammunition for the legal argument that as long as aid was distributed evenhandedly, it could not be said to be impermissibly favoring religious recipient," notes The New York Times, which runs a sidebar on possible ramifications on the voucher debate. Similar conclusions were drawn by The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and USA Today. The [New Orleans] Times-Picayune report puts a local spin on the decision. See also our earlier coverage of the case, " Do Computers Cross the Church-State Divide?"Clinic buffer zone approved
A decision supporting a "bubble zone" where leaflets and "oral arguments" are prohibited within eight feet of anyone entering an abortion clinic received far less media attention. Justice John Paul Stevens' decision for the six-justice majority drew largely on a 1928 dissenting opinion by Louis Brandeis that noted "the right to be let alone is the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." In another dissenting opinion, Scalia was again at his rhetorical best. "I scarcely know how to respond to such an unabashed repudiation of our First Amendment doctrine," he wrote. ( Here's the official site, and here's the decision in HTML.) Faced with Supreme Court decision overload, most major newspapers didn't give this decision much coverage. Those who did typically tied it into their coverage of the decision on partial-birth abortion or simply ran the Associated Press article. USA Today ran its coverage separately, however, and online news sources like CNN and ABCNews give it independent play. Our coverage of the last Supreme Court "bubble zone" decision is also available.
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