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Friday, June 30, 2000

Retaliating against
Cayetano’s critics

Bullet The issue: State Sen. Sam Slom has accused the governor of trying to punish critics of his administration.

Bullet Our view: The case of the governor's complaint against Pacific Business News and one of its reporters seems to support Slom's charges and shows a disdain for freedom of the press.

SAM Slom, the Republican state senator and director of Small Business Hawaii, has accused Governor Cayetano of stepping up efforts "to stamp out criticism." Writing in the Small Business Hawaii newsletter, Slom charged that Cayetano had been "harsh in his attacks on the national publications and reporters critical of Hawaii's anti-business attitude."

Slom cited in particular Cayetano's reaction to articles critical of the state administration by reporter Malia Zimmerman that appeared in the weekly Pacific Business News. He said the governor had his communications director, Jackie Kido, work to "silence" Zimmerman.

Kido filed a complaint against the business newspaper and Zimmerman with the Honolulu Community/Media Council last November. Subsequently Zimmerman was fired.

The dismissal was followed by Kido's withdrawal of her complaint before the Media Council. The governor's office made public Kido's letter to the council announcing the withdrawal. It specifically stated that the action was taken as a result of Zimmerman's termination. The letter continued: "It is understood that should Ms. Zimmerman regain employment with PBN within the next 12-month period, the case may be reopened at our discretion."

In an editorial, PBN stated that Cayetano's complaint was filed because the newspaper reported the recommendations of the Small Business Task Force on Regulatory Relief before the governor had a chance to review them.

A footnote to the PBN editorial added, in an obvious reference to Malia Zimmerman, "The recent departure of a PBN reporter (was) unrelated to the governor's Media Council complaint."

Given the known facts, it is difficult to believe that Zimmerman's firing had nothing to do with Cayetano's complaint, as the newspaper claims. In any event, the administration's intention is clear. The governor's aide publicly threatened to revive the complaint if PBN rehired her. What clearer message could be sent?

Slom commented that the incident shows "why media and business people are afraid to speak out about those things they know reflect government's attitude toward business."

As we have noted previously, this administration has shown scant respect for the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech and press. The PBN case is particularly disturbing evidence that Cayetano does not tolerate criticism and is willing to retaliate against critics with little regard for the First Amendment.

Boy Scouts’ bias

Bullet The issue: The Boy Scouts of America has been allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court to deny membership to homosexuals because of the organization's moral code.

Bullet Our view: The Scouts' exercise of their right of freedom of expression by rejecting gays will reduce the organization's value to society.

CONFLICT between a private organization's control over the makeup of its membership and laws against discrimination is not easily resolved. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the Boy Scouts of America to ban homosexuals from their ranks because of the Scouts' moral code. The ruling strongly asserts freedom of association guaranteed by the First Amendment, but the line between that and unlawful discrimination remains blurred.

The Supreme Court required Jaycees in 1984 and the Rotary Club five years later to admit women into their formerly all-male organizations, finding that public policy against sexual discrimination outweighed their freedom of association. However, in 1995, the court unanimously held that a private group organizing a St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston could exclude a gay rights group from participation.

The difference -- other than one form of discrimination being directed at sex and the other being directed at sexual orientation -- is the nature of the organization. The Jaycees and Rotary Club are business-related groups; their activities would not be undermined by admitting women, the court correctly found. The court determined that the Boston parade was inherently expressive and its organizers had a right to exclude anyone whose message they found unacceptable.

The Scout Oath provides that members keep themselves "morally straight" and "clean." Boy Scout officials have interpreted that as opposition to homosexuality. When James Dale, who had been an exemplary Boy Scout and served later as an assistant scoutmaster, openly declared his homosexuality, he was ousted from the organization.

Because of the avowed importance of the moral and ethical guidelines, the Supreme Court upheld Dales' ouster. "We accept the Boy Scouts' assertion" and "need not inquire further," Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the court's opinion.

Responding to the assertion that discrimination against gays has become unacceptable, the chief justice responded, "Indeed, it appears that homosexuality has gained greater societal acceptance. But this is scarcely an argument for denying First Amendment protection to those who refuse to accept these views."

If the NAACP wants to admit a member of the KKK -- or vice versa -- that would be understandable. In the same way, if the Boy Scouts want to be identified as anti-gay, they can do so, but only at the expense of diminishing their reputation. The Scout Law describes a Scout as "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent." Absent from the list, society will note, is "tolerant."

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