Discouraging Charity

Christians and moral conservatives are dismayed at another setback in the culture war. Last week the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that under the state's Law Against Discrimination, the Boy Scouts cannot exclude homosexuals from being scoutmasters. The case was prompted by the dismissal of an assistant scoutmaster, James Dale, whom scouting officials had learned was gay. But the case is about far more than gay rights, or the issue of who your son's scoutmaster is dating. This decision could have frightening implications for every church and religious organization in America. Mind you, there's plenty to dislike about the Court's opinion. The New Jersey Court claimed that "excluded groups"--that is, homosexuals--"have been prevented from full participation in the social, economic, and political life of our country. The human price of this bigotry," the court declared, "has been enormous." And it added pompously, "the principal of equality demands that our legal system protect the victims of invidious discrimination." Labeling moral opposition to homosexuality "bigotry" is reminiscent of the Supreme Court's decision in Romer v. Evans. There, the Court held that any opposition to special rights for gays was motivated by animus, or hatred, towards homosexuals. Both cases are nothing more than judges substituting their own moral opinions for those held by the people--not to mention thousands of years of settled moral tradition. But most troubling of all is the reasoning the Court used to hold that the Scouts were covered under New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination. This law only covers what New Jersey calls "places of public accommodation." To justify labeling the Scouts as a "public accomodation," the Court pointed out that the Scouts don't keep to themselves, citing their efforts to increase membership through advertising and recruiting. They even used the Scouts' commitment to reaching out to all boys as evidence they're sending an invitation to the general public. You may be wondering where this ruling leaves churches and Christian nonprofits--especially ones that take seriously the command of Jesus to "go out into all the world." Good question. Take the case of Prison Fellowship. It's almost impossible for Prison Fellowship NOT to have a "close relationship" with government, because it's the only way we can get to the people we serve: prisoners. And yes, we issue a general invitation to these prisoners, regardless of their religion or beliefs. The Court's mentioning the Boy Scouts' relationships with other "places of public accommodations" has a chilling affect on all nonprofits. Does this mean that every church that sponsors a Scout troop risks coming under the Law Against Discrimination? Consider the implications: Churches sponsor sixty-two percent of all Scout troops. And this is only the foot in the door. If you read the Court's opinion carefully, you'll see that almost any church could be subject to this ruling as a "public accommodation." If the ruling stands, we Christians will face an agonizing choice: Reach out to the world at the risk of losing the right to define ourselves, or remain true to our convictions by isolating ourselves from the world we are commanded to reach. Since most of us will choose faithfulness to our beliefs, America will lose many of its most public-minded citizens. We ought to support the Scouts as they carry this battle to the Supreme Court. Because if they don't prevail, the only thing scarcer than water in drought-stricken Jersey will be people willing to help those in need.


Chuck Colson


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