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The New Jersey court ruling that it is illegal for a Boy Scout troop to exclude gays will probably be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where its fate is uncertain.Quite apart from the legal issues, however, the Boy Scouts of America should drop the vile lesson of intolerance it is teaching the future community leaders it purports to groom.

New Jersey's top court said civic organizations like the Boy Scouts fall under the state's public accommodations laws, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Boy Scouts of America says being forced to admit gays would violate scouts' First Amendment rights to free association and expression.

This distinction is key.

In 1995 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a South Boston veterans group that wanted to bar gay activists from marching in its St. Patrick's Day parade.

The court said a parade is a form of expression that would be abridged by forcing organizers to accept a ``message' that clashed with their own.

But in 1984 the court ruled that the Jaycees, a service organization, could not exclude women under the public accommodation laws.

Are the Boy Scouts more like a parade or more like the Jaycees?

The New Jersey court made a convincing case for the latter.

Civic organizations in particular, the Supreme Court found, have a higher responsibility to uphold the state's interest in preventing discrimination.

In his 1984 majority opinion, Justice William Brennan said the leadership skills and community contacts promoted by the Jaycees are ``goods and advantages' to which the law clearly requires that all Americans have equal access.

So, too, with the Boy Scouts.

Discrimination against homosexuals is, sadly, still common in this country and sometimes leads to ugly and tragic ends.

At a prestigious prep school in Gill, Mass., last month, police arrested two students for grabbing a classmate and carving a gay slur into his back with a knife.

The Boy Scouts of America, founded 90 years ago, says it promotes leadership, citizenship and character development among a million young men.

Boy Scout law should not teach young men to be brave, clean and bigoted.

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