Yes, Boy Scouts should have the right to bar homosexuals, Libertarians argue

WASHINGTON, DC -- You don't have to be homophobic to oppose a recent court decision that forces Boy Scouts to accept a gay scout master -- you just have to support the right of free association, the Libertarian Party said today.

"This case isn't about being gay. It's about being free," said Steve Dasbach, the party's national chairman.

"And this case isn't about tolerance. It's about power -- the power of the government and the courts to nullify the private moral decisions of six million members of the Boy Scouts organization."

This week, a state appeals court in New Jersey ruled that the Boy Scouts' ban on gay members violated state anti-discrimination laws. The three-judge panel ordered the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to reinstate James Dale, and said the expelled gay scout master can sue for monetary damages.

While not binding across the country, the decision may set a precedent in similar legal battles going on in Washington state, California, Florida, and Illinois.

At issue: Whether the Boy Scouts, an organization that has taught "traditional family values" since 1910 and argues that homosexuality is "not a role model for those values," can set its own membership standards and requirements.

For Libertarians, there's no question, said Dasbach.

"The Boy Scouts, not the courts, should decide who can be a Boy Scout or a scout master," he said. "Three judges should not have the power to overrule the moral decisions of a popular, successful private organization, merely to enforce government-approved notions of tolerance and equality."

Wait a second: Why would the Libertarian Party -- perhaps America's most socially tolerant political party -- support the right of a group to discriminate against gay people?

"Individual Libertarians may consider the Boy Scouts' anti-gay regulations short-sighted, morally wrong, or foolish," admitted Dasbach. "But, politically, we support their right to set whatever membership requirements they choose -- without government interference. The right to associate, or not associate, is a basic human right that the government cannot take away.

"And that right applies to everyone equally: We would also support the right of a gay boys' scouting association to reject heterosexuals, or a religious boys' group to reject non-believers," he said. "The way to create equal opportunity is through maximizing choices -- not by relying on the government's Equality Police."

But the New Jersey court did not agree: It ruled that the BSA meetings are actually public "places of accommodation," and come under state anti-discrimination law.

"What this court ruling really says is: Government power is more important than private morality," said Dasbach. "But Libertarians reject that notion. And we reject intolerant laws that mandate tolerance at the point of a gun -- or with the threat of lawsuits or jail time.

"Such laws are supposed to end discrimination and promote harmony. But government coercion never promotes harmony," he said. "In the long run, only free people, with the power to make their best moral decisions, can create the kind of tolerant, harmonious society we all want."

On the topic of discrimination, the Libertarian Party Platform states: "Discrimination imposed by the government has brought disruption in normal relationships of people, set neighbor against neighbor, created gross injustices, destroyed voluntary communities, and diminished human potential. Anti-discrimination laws enforced by the government are the reverse side of the coin, and will for the same reasons create the same problems. Consequently, we oppose any government attempts to regulate private discrimination, including choices and preferences, in employment, housing, and privately owned businesses. The right to trade includes the right not to trade . . . [and] the right of association includes the right not to associate, for exercise of the right depends upon mutual consent."