Council votes to end city lease with Boy Scouts

Posted: June 01, 2007

The long-simmering dispute over whether the Boy Scouts of America's Cradle of Liberty Council must publicly affirm it will not discriminate against openly gay people - or pay fair-market rent for the city-owned Logan Square land on which their landmark headquarters is located - boiled over anew yesterday as City Council authorized the city to end the lease.

The resolution was introduced unexpectedly by Councilman Darrell L. Clarke and passed, 16-1, with no debate and with Council Minority Leader Brian J. O'Neill voting no.

Both Clarke, a Center City Democrat whose district includes the building at 22d and Winter Streets, and City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. said they hoped the resolution would spur talks to resolve the dispute so Cradle of Liberty Council could continue to use at nominal rent the Beaux Arts building it has been in since 1928.

"My hope is that the resolution will give a little more leverage to the city and that [the parties] can come up with some kind of compromise," Clarke said. "Honestly, no one wants to see them out of there."

Diaz said the Council vote was the last step required to end the lease under the 1928 ordinance that leased the land to the scouts "in perpetuity."

Diaz said the scouts had to have a year's notice and the administration's recommendation had to be ratified by the Fairmount Park Commission and City Council.

"The year's-notice clock is ticking," Diaz said.

Jeff Jubelirer, a spokesman for Cradle of Liberty Council, said scout officials were disappointed at the council vote and that they were not told in advance.

"This is the way it's been done all along," Jubelirer said. "We feel we haven't been dealt with fairly."

Jubelirer said he did not know how scout officials would react and that any decision would likely involve leadership of the scout's National Council.

"We walk a fine line between what National wants and what we want to do," Jubelirer said. Cradle of Liberty Council has about 64,000 members in Philadelphia and parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties.

"The real victims here are the 40,000 kids in Philadelphia who potentially could lose after-school programs at a time when Philadelphia's murder rate is soaring," Jubelirer said.

Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, which promotes legal equality for sexual minorities and pressed the city on the scouts' lease, yesterday praised the Council vote.

"We recognize the value of the Boy Scouts programs to some young people. They, however, should not be able to use taxpayers' dollars to discriminate against others," said executive director Stacey Sobel.

The dispute is not unique to Philadelphia.

For the last decade, the scouts have struggled to retain their identity and values as a private organization. But though private, the scouts have historically also enjoyed a special relationship with many local governments, municipalities that today must obey court rulings that bar taxpayer support of any group that discriminates.

Scouts require an oath of duty to God and the group's rules prohibit participation by any person who is openly gay.

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that as a private group, scouts have a First Amendment right to bar gays from membership.

But what seemed like a legal victory soon soured as local officials began reexamining often decades-old relationships with scout councils.

In October, the Supreme Court dealt another blow, refusing to review a California Supreme Court ruling affirming the City of Berkeley's decision to revoke free marina use for a Sea Scouts group because they discriminate against atheists and gays.

Philadelphia's dispute dates to 2003, when Cradle of Liberty Council adopted a nondiscrimination policy but was then ordered to revoke it by the National Council, which said local councils had no right to deviate from national charter and rules.

The situation was compounded that spring when the Cradle of Liberty Council ousted an 18-year-old scout, who publicly announced he was gay at a national scouting convention being held in Philadelphia.

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

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