Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000)

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Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale (2000) is a Supreme Court case regarding the right to freedom of association under the First Amendment. This case established expressive association as an important First Amendment right. That said, many civil rights organizations considered this as a blow to LGBTQ rights in America.


The respondent, James Dale was an Eagle Scout member of the petitioner organization, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).  BSA revoked Dale’s membership upon discovering that Dale was gay, reasoning that BSA’s values conflict with Dale’s homosexual activity. Dale brought a suit against BSA in New Jersey Superior Court alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under New Jersey’s public accommodations statute. The State Court decided in favor of Dale and the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed

The Supreme Court, upon a writ of certiorarireversed the lower court, holding that BSA had the freedom to express its views under the First Amendment and forcing BSA to admit certain members may impose on that freedom (particularly freedom of association).  The Court stated that the freedom of association under the First Amendment included the “freedom to not associate.” Therefore, a private organization cannot be forced to accept members whose beliefs conflict with the organization’s beliefs. Justice Stevens’ dissenting opinion pointed out that nothing in the founding principles of BSA clashed with homosexuality and the majority’s decision only enabled discrimination against LGBTQ people.

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team