City hikes Boy Scouts' rent by $199,999 over gay ban

Posted: October 18, 2007

The Boy Scouts of America's refusal to bend its rules to permit gay scouts will cost the organization's local chapter $200,000 a year if it wishes to keep its headquarters in a city-owned building on Logan Square.

Representatives of the Boy Scouts of America's Cradle of Liberty Council were notified that to remain in their 79-year-old landmark headquarters, they needed to pay the city a "fair market" rent, Fairmount Park Commission president Robert N.C. Nix said yesterday. Currently, the rent is $1 a year.

The city decided on the rent proposal after it was unable to reach a compromise with the local scout council in talks that have gone on since May.

"Once we know what the Cradle of Liberty Boy Scouts want to do, we'll probably want to weigh in with the city about how to proceed," Nix told the park commission.

Barring a resolution, the Cradle of Liberty Council - about 64,000 scouts in Philadelphia and parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties - must vacate the property at 22d and Winter Streets after May 31.

"It's disappointing, and it's certainly a threat," said Jeff Jubelirer, a spokesman for Cradle of Liberty Council, referring to the rent's impact on the scouts' chances of staying on the site.

Jubelirer said $200,000 a year in rent "would have to come from programs. That's 30 new Cub Scout packs, or 800 needy kids going to our summer camp."

Nevertheless, Jubelirer said, scouting officials will ask City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. for details on the real estate appraisals that yielded the $200,000 rent figure.

Cradle of Liberty officials have said they could not renounce the scouts' long-established policy of not opening membership to atheists or openly gay people without running afoul of their charter with the scouts' National Council.

City officials have said they could not legally rent taxpayer-owned property for a dollar a year to a private organization that discriminates.

The land belongs to the City of Philadelphia but has been leased since 1928 for that token sum to the scouts, who built the landmark Beaux Arts building.

That lease came into question only after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2000 in a New Jersey case involving an openly gay scout who was barred from serving as troop leader.

The high court in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale ruled, 5-4, that the scouts, as a private organization, have a right of "expressive association" under the First Amendment to set their own membership rules.

The scouts have long required members to swear an oath of duty to God, and their rules prohibit membership by anyone who is openly homosexual. For that reason, scouting officials initially greeted the Supreme Court's ruling as a victory.

That mood quickly evaporated, however, as local government officials around the nation began reexamining long-standing preferential relationships with scouts.

Unlike the scouts, public officials are also bound by a line of Supreme Court opinions barring taxpayer support of any group that discriminates.

In Philadelphia, officials wrestled for months for a way to let the scouts remain at their longtime headquarters.

At one point in 2005, the city and scouts seemed poised to agree on a policy statement adopted by New York scouts. That statement, while not renouncing the bars against atheist or gay members, affirmed that "prejudice, intolerance and unlawful discrimination in any form are unacceptable."

But last year, Diaz wrote Cradle of Liberty Council officials to say the suggested policy statement could not be reconciled with the city's own anti-discriminatory fair-practices ordinance.

Again, both sides began trading proposals. That ended May 31, when City Council voted 16-1 to authorize ending the lease with Cradle of Liberty Council.

The resolution was introduced unexpectedly by Councilman Darrell L. Clarke and passed, 16-1, with no debate.

Both Clarke, a Center City Democrat whose district includes the scouts building, and Diaz, a prominent member of the city's gay community, said they hoped the resolution would spur talks to resolve the dispute.

Nix said yesterday that those talks had apparently failed, leading to the lease proposal.

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

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