A chilling erosion of Constitutional freedom

By Eric Seymour

A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled that the Boy Scouts of America's ban on admitting avowed homosexuals violates that state's laws against discrimination. This unprecedented intrusion into the moral standards of a private institution represents a serious threat to the Constitutional right to freedom of association, and continues the war being waged on one of the last non-church organizations which strive to teach traditional values and responsibilities to young people.

It is well understood that government and business entities may not discriminate based on "suspect classes" such as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The reason that these actions may be outlawed in these situations is that people do not have a choice whether to be involved. Our system of government applies to all citizens of the United States, therefore government agencies cannot discriminate, nor can businesses, because every adult citizen needs a source of income, usually through employment.

However, private organizations of voluntary membership have always been free to restrict their membership in ways which public groups are not allowed. From country clubs to churches to quilting societies, private institutions may refuse or terminate membership for many reasons not available to government or business, because it is a person's completely free choice to join.

An important exception to this rule is for groups like the above which accept government money. This is the reason Indiana's Congressman John Hostettler opposes a voucher system for parochial schools. Government money comes with strings attached, and as soon as the first dollar enters the doors, so does the authority of the government to regulate. For this reason, the recent decision by the city of Chicago to stop funding the Boy Scouts (due to a complaint by the ACLU about the "religious oaths" the Scouts use), while sad, was understandable.

But in this case, no government funds were involved. Absurdly, the court placed the Boy Scouts in the same classification as hotels and restaurants, i.e, "places of accommodation." Forcing the Boy Scouts to admit avowed and/or practicing homosexuals is the worst kind of intrusion by the government into the private lives and beliefs of citizens.

If this decision stands, the implications for mainline Christian churches which ban homosexuals from church leadership positions is frightening. The precedent set by this case could easily be applied to churches in New Jersey and (if the US Supreme Court should eventually rule in the same way on this or another case) across the United States. The likely consequence for churches who refuse to bow to such a new government policy would be loss of tax-exempt status. This, in turn, could effectively be the end of freedom of religion in America. While this scenario is thankfully unlikely, now is the time to stop this trend before it becomes even more dangerous than it currently is.

Eric Seymour

Robert Schiener

Bryan Wilhelm

Bryant Lewis
Joel Corbin