Institute on Religion and Democracy
June 29, 2000
The Director of the IRDs United Methodist committee commended the United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran-Missouri Synod and Mormon groups that defended the Boy Scouts legal ability to establish their own internal membership standards.
Yesterday, June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts may legally continue their prohibition against practicing homosexuals as scout masters.
The religious groups that successfully defended the Boy Scouts constitutional right to freedom of association were courageous and morally astute in their understanding of the far-reaching implications of this case, said Mark Tooley, who is executive director of UMAction, one of the IRDs denominational committees. The IRD advocates political, theological and financial accountability within mainline church denominations.
The General Commission of United Methodist Men, along with Roman Catholic, Lutheran-Missouri Synod and Mormon scouting ministries, had filed friend of the court briefs on behalf of the Boy Scouts. These religious organizations are among the largest sponsors of scout troops. Like most religious organizations, they have policies similar to the Boy Scouts regarding the unacceptability of homosexual practice.
The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the New Jersey Supreme Courts ruling against the Boy Scouts last year. In New Jersey, a homosexual man believed a New Jersey law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation should compel his acceptance as a scout master, despite the laws exclusion of private associations.
Liberal church groups - such as the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the United Church of Christ Board of Homeland Ministries, and the Episcopal Church Diocese of Newark - lobbied against the Boy Scouts. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society has called for local churches to discontinue their scouting ministries in protest against the Boy Scout policy.
The churches that stood with the Boy Scouts on this issue were not only defending a sacred freedom that has historically been honored by Americans of all religious and political beliefs, Tooley observed. They also summoned the moral stamina to adopt a controversial position within a key battle of the culture wars. Some cultural elites want to enlist governmental power to impose their preferred social orthodoxy, which includes mandatory acceptance of homosexuality, even at the expense of free speech and freedom of association.
These religious groups rightly understood that the assault upon the Boy Scouts would inevitably have led to an abridgement of freedom for other groups, including religious denominations, Tooley observed. He also predicted that the church groups that lobbied against the Boy Scouts, in rejecting the historic teachings of their own faith traditions about sexuality, have only reinforced their own irrelevance to the constituencies they claim to represent."