Scouts' honor

A public-private confusion

The Boy Scouts of America want to exclude gays, atheists and agnostics. They think they have the right to do so because they are, they claim, a private, voluntary organization. The BSA's convictions on this score have prompted a series of court cases across the country, with diverse results. The scouts have, on the surface, a strong case, and one that is important to religious people: Groups with distinct convictions should have the right to operate in the public square. It would be a perverse irony if, in the name of pluralism, the courts were to require private groups to alter their identity—forcing, for example, the NAACP to admit a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Part of what we mean by a liberal or pluralistic society is that it enables people to form groups that are not subject to government regulation, groups that can define their own identity and set their own criteria for admitting—or excluding—members.


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