MEDIA WATCH: Media stays neutral covering Boy Scouts in court

In late April, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has a constitutional right to exclude gay members. In the case at hand, the BSA is appealing a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that it violated state anti-discrimination laws by ousting James Dale, an openly gay assistant scoutmaster. The BSA argues that, as a private organization, it should be protected by right under the First Amendment’s freedom of association. Lawyers for Dale insist that the case involves homosexual bias.

In late April, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has a constitutional right to exclude gay members. In the case at hand, the BSA is appealing a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that it violated state anti-discrimination laws by ousting James Dale, an openly gay assistant scoutmaster. The BSA argues that, as a private organization, it should be protected by right under the First Amendment’s freedom of association. Lawyers for Dale insist that the case involves homosexual bias.

In late April, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the Boy

Scouts of America (BSA) has a constitutional right to exclude gay

members. In the case at hand, the BSA is appealing a New Jersey Supreme

Court ruling that it violated state anti-discrimination laws by ousting

James Dale, an openly gay assistant scoutmaster. The BSA argues that, as

a private organization, it should be protected by right under the First

Amendment’s freedom of association. Lawyers for Dale insist that the

case involves homosexual bias.



CARMA International monitored media coverage as the case went before the

Supreme Court, and found that the majority of reports primarily conveyed

each side’s argument in the case without urging for a ruling one way or

the other.



Rather than choose sides in the debate, the media focused on the dilemma

faced by the Supreme Court in having to decide the matter. Reports

frequently portrayed the justices as sensitive to the fact that their

ruling would have wider consequences involving freedom of speech,

freedom of association and the rights of homosexuals. The Washington

Post (April 27) reported, ’The court was plainly concerned about the

consequences of ... whether large groups with distinct identities could

be required to admit people who conflict with those identities.’

Justices were wondering if Catholic organizations would have to accept

Jews and vice versa.



The media characterized the case as one of the toughest the Supreme

Court has faced in its current session. A legal expert told The

Christian Science Monitor (April 26), ’You have two extremely important

constitutional interests in conflict in an area of law where the court

has really not definitively spoken.’



One of the most frequently conveyed messages about the specific case at

hand was that the BSA turned on one of its stars. Dale was acknowledged

by both sides to have been an exemplary scout, reaching the rank of

Eagle Scout, and was asked to return to serve as assistant scoutmaster -

only to be ousted later when his sexual orientation was made public. An

editorial in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (April 25) noted, ’(BSA)

leaders helped mold Dale into a model citizen, using the time-tested

principles of Scouting, and Dale was a good Scout - until they told him

he was bad.’



In the coverage analyzed by CARMA, there were a greater number of

reports that urged the court to rule in favor of the BSA rather than for

Dale.



Among editorials in prominent newspapers, The Wall Street Journal (April

24) sided with the BSA while The New York Times (April 26) favored

Dale’s argument. The Journal wrote, ’In the end ... the case is

about ... a core value of American society: the right to associate, and

not associate, with whomever we please.’ The Times argued, ’(BSA’s)

essential message and purpose are not changed because gay people happen

to participate.’



Almost all of the coverage analyzed portrayed the justices as having

given no clear indication of how the case will be settled when they

issue their ruling at the end of June. The Supreme Court appears to have

its work cut out as it seeks a fair solution to such a divisive

case.





Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found

at www.carma.com.



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