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Dale v. Boy Scouts of America

Citation. 530 U.S. 640, 120 S. Ct. 2446, 147 L. Ed. 2d 554, 2000 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Boy Scouts revoked the membership of an openly gay Scout leader, claiming it was expressive association.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Under the First Amendment’s freedom of expressive association, a group does not need to accept members whose presence impedes their ability to advocate their viewpoint.


The Boy Scouts of America (Defendant) is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to teach boys about values. Assistant scoutmaster Dale (Plaintiff) is openly gay and is also a gay rights activist. Defendant revoked Plaintiff’s membership, claiming its policy specifically forbids membership to homosexuals, though the Scout Oath and Law do not specifically mention sexuality or sexual orientation.


May a group exclude homosexuals?


To determine whether a group is protected by the First Amendment expressive association right, a group must be engaged in expressive association. An association that attempts to transmit a value system is engaged in expressive activity.
Forced inclusion of people into a group infringes on the group’s expressive association if the presence of those people would impede the group’s ability to advocate its views. Defendant asserts that homosexuality is inconsistent with its views and values, particularly those values embodied in the Scout Oath and Law by the terms ‘morally straight’ and ‘clean.’ Defendant teaches that homosexual conduct is not morally straight.
Plaintiff is openly gay, and his presence in Defendant would force the organization to send the message that they support homosexuality. So forcing Defendant to include Plaintiff would burden their desire not to promote homosexuality.
Since Defendant is an expressive association and forcing the inclusion of Plaintiff would burden its rights to oppose homosexuality, Defendant’s freedom of association right allows them to exclude him.


The terms ‘morally straight’ and ‘clean’ have nothing to do with homosexuality, so the Boy Scouts have not proclaimed any anti-gay philosophy. Also, the Boy Scout Handbook does not mention homosexuality. Joining the Boy Scouts is not symbolic speech. Homosexuals are being singled out for special First Amendment treatment.


An expressive association does not need to accept members whose views differ strongly from their own.

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