Scouts miss deadline to lift gay ban

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The Philadelphia chapter of the Boy Scouts of America has ignored a deadline set by the city’s officials to publicly renounce its membership bar against people who are openly homosexual or atheists if the organisation wishes to remain in its landmark headquarters on city-owned land.

The scouts have been on notice for seven months that they will be evicted on May 31 if they do not drop the policies.

Jeff Jubelirer, spokesman for the 64,000-member Cradle of Liberty Council, which includes Philadelphia and parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties told the Philadelphia Inquirer:“We’re letting it pass. We feel it’s a political, arbitrary deadline.”

Earlier this year, city officials decided to raise the amount of rent charged to the organisation for their Logan Square headquarters because they cannot legally rent taxpayer-owned property for a dollar a year to a private organisation that discriminates. The organisation has been given the option of either changing its membership policy or paying $200,000 (£97,680) a year in rent.

City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr, who set the deadline as December 3rd, has not commented himself on the scouts’ lack of cooperation, however, Mayor Street issued a statement yesterday saying the Cradle of Liberty Council could remain in the headquarters under a new lease, to take effect June 2, “by paying fair market rent to the city.”

The statement said the city “will respect the right of the Cradle of Liberty Council to respond to the city’s notice before the city considers appropriate next steps.”

Diaz has said that if the scouts did not respond by his December 3rd deadline – by either relenting on the policy or paying a $200,000-a-year “fair-market rent” – he would actively begin looking for a new tenant for the 79-year-old building at 22d and Winter Streets near Logan Square.

The Cradle of Liberty Council built the Beaux Arts structure in 1928 on Fairmount Park land that the city agreed to lease to it in perpetuity for a dollar a year.

However, recent U.S. Supreme Court cases have held that taxpayer money cannot be used to support private groups that knowingly discriminate.

Last year, Diaz wrote to the scouts to say that it was impossible to reconcile the group’s policies on homosexuals and atheists with the city’s antidiscrimination fair-practices law.

Cradle of Liberty officials maintain that they have used a “don’t ask, don’t tell” practice but cannot change the policies without violating their charter from the national scouting organisation.

Jubelirer told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the scouts should not be required to pay additional rent for a building the scouting council built, spent $2.6 million renovating in 1994, and pays $60,000 (£29,204) a year to maintain.

“The council could not afford it, and it’s not feasible,” he added.

Jubelirer said the Cradle of Liberty Council would not decide what it will do before January. Among its options would be to file suit against the city over eviction, a decision the national council has backed in similar stalemates.

None of those lawsuits, however, has successfully reversed a local government decision to end a preferential lease with a scout group.

“We’re still hopeful we’ll be able to work something out,” Jubelirer said.