Trial opens in suit over Boy Scouts headquarters

Posted: June 16, 2010

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts of America could set rules as a private organization, even if that meant excluding homosexuals, the Philadelphia chapter disagreed with the exclusionary policy.

The local group, the Cradle of Liberty Council, thought scouting should be open to everyone. It even adopted a resolution saying it opposed any form of discrimination.

But Bill Dwyer, a retired chief executive of the council, told a federal court jury Tuesday that he and other leaders realized "in our heart of hearts" that "we couldn't repudiate totally the national position. They would put us out of business."

Dwyer's testimony came on the first day of the U.S. District Court trial focusing on the city's effort to evict the local group from the headquarters it built and has occupied, rent-free, for 81 years on city-owned property near 22d and Winter Streets.

The city gave the scouts three options: Pay $200,000 fair-market rent, move out, or "have the courage of its convictions and agree" to acknowledge the city's antidiscrimination policy.

The scouts contend the city's position is unconstitutional and violates the organization's right to free speech and equal protection. The city leases property to other organizations that have membership rules, including a Catholic church, and those tenants do not face eviction, say attorneys for the scouts. The city calls that comparison inaccurate.

Jason P. Gosselin, who represents the Cradle of Liberty Council, told the jury in his opening address that the city's effort was unconstitutional and motivated only by hostility to the antigay viewpoint expressed by the scouts' national leadership policy.

"They wanted to force Cradle of Liberty to say something that Cradle of Liberty doesn't have to say," said Gosselin, who said the local scouts could not be forced to "repudiate a policy that the Supreme Court says is protected."

David Smith, a lawyer for the city, told the jury of six women and two men that the city accepted the local group's statement that it opposed discrimination until learning that the chapter used the national group's employment application, which stated that homosexuals, atheists, and agnostics would not be hired.

Local leaders were "speaking out of both sides of their mouths," said Smith, who said the city began to "look more carefully" at the long-standing practice of rent-free headquarters for the group.

The national Boy Scouts were unhappy with the local group, Smith said, adding that the local group should have had "the courage of its convictions" and denounced the national policy. The local group, he said, gave in to "heavy-handed coercion by the Boy Scouts of America."

Under questioning by Gosselin, Dwyer testified that as the dispute with the city escalated, the city made it clear that if the local group repudiated the national policy, the matter would have been resolved.

"We would have liked to have done that, but we knew we couldn't," he told the jury.

Ten years ago this month, the nation's high court ruled that the Boy Scouts can bar homosexuals from being troop leaders. The decision came in the case of a New Jersey assistant scout leader who was expelled for being gay and sought reinstatement.

Testimony is to resume this morning in the trial before U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter.


Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at 215-854-4828 or elounsberry@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|