City poised to evict Boy Scouts council

Posted: July 22, 2006

Mayor Street will evict the Boy Scouts's Cradle of Liberty Council from its city-owned Center City headquarters, or make the organization pay fair-market rent, unless it stops discriminating against gays.

The mayor's intention - which would apparently bring to an end a dispute that has been roiling for more than three years over scouting's policies toward gays - was made clear in a letter written by City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. to William T. Dyer III, president and chief executive officer of Cradle of Liberty Council.

"For several years, we have attempted to convince the Cradle of Liberty Council that its discriminatory policies are untenable and violate express City policy and law," reads the letter. "Regrettably, we have been unable to obtain adequate assurances that the Boy Scouts will not, while headquartered on City property, discriminate."

The letter goes on to say: "We believe that ejectment, subject to a fair-market rent agreement, is an appropriate measure that recognizes the many contributions made by your organization."

The council serves 87,000 members in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Delaware Counties, and is the third-largest in the country.

"Until we've had time to put this in front of our attorneys and decision makers, it really isn't appropriate for me to comment," Dwyer said yesterday.

Dwyer said, however, that the letter had surprised him because he believed the two sides "were still working."

Cradle of Liberty Council spokesman Jeff Jubelirer had more pointed views.

"With an epidemic of gun violence taking the lives of Philadelphia's children every day," Jubelirer said, "it is ironic the administration chose this time to destroy programming that services 40,000 children in the city."

Stacey L. Sobel, executive director of Philadelphia's Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, said members of her organization had worked with the city and the local Boy Scout Council during negotiations.

"This is a long-standing issue with the Boy Scouts," she said. "We're pleased that the city is taking action."

She said her group would prefer that the Boy Scouts not discriminate at all. But "if they are going to discriminate, the taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing it," Sobel said.

The Boy Scouts have been headquartered on nearly a half acre near Logan Circle at 22d and Winter Streets since 1928, when City Council voted in favor of letting the Philadelphia Boy Scouts use the property rent-free "in perpetuity."

Although the scouts pay no rent, they foot the bill for the upkeep of the stately stone building.

Officials at the organization's national headquarters could not be reached yesterday for comment on the letter. The national organization, Boy Scouts of America, has a strict policy that forbids homosexuals from being scout leaders. That policy was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 and affirmed by the national council in 2002.

Scouting's position on gays has been debated in Philadelphia since 2003, when the local council voted to adopt a nondiscrimination policy regarding homosexuals - but then weeks later ousted an 18-year-old South Philadelphia scout who publicly acknowledged he was gay.

The action was greeted with protests by gay and lesbian groups and others offended by the apparent discrimination based on sexual orientation. The group also lost some of its funding, including from the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Afterward, then-City Solicitor Nelson Diaz offered the opinion that the scouts' policy of not allowing gays to be scout leaders violated the city's fair-practices ordinance. That law forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion, race, color and other classifications, and would preclude the city from aiding the organization.

The city and the local council had been talking since.

In September 2003, the council vowed to bring its policies into line with Philadelphia's antidiscrimination laws, but that apparently did not happen.

Yesterday, Diaz said his letter represented a "measured approach to an issue that has been certainly one of concern since the issue was raised some years back."

"We believe that the free-rent approach at the Boy Scout headquarters has subsidized discrimination by the local scout organization," Diaz said. "We believe we have a responsibility, both legally and morally, to address that."

Real estate prices have boomed in the burgeoning neighborhoods along the Parkway in Center City.

Across the wide avenue from the Boy Scouts, a 47-story condo tower is planned at the site of the Best Western Center City Motel at 22d and Spring Garden Streets.

Contact staff writer Tina Moore at 215-854-2664 or tmoore@phillynews.com.

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