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Scouts evicted over gay discrimination


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Scouts evicted over gay discrimination

Ian Urbina in Philadelphia

December 8, 2007


FOR three years the Philadelphia council of the Boy Scouts of America held its ground. It resisted the city's request to change its discriminatory policy towards gay people despite threats that if it did not do so, the city would evict the group from a municipal building where the Scouts have resided practically rent free since 1928.

Hailed as the birthplace of the Boy Scouts, the Beaux Arts building is the seat of the seventh-largest chapter of the organisation and the first of the more than 300 council service centres built by the Scouts in the US over the past century.

Municipal officials said the clash stemmed from a duty to defend civil rights and an obligation to abide by local law that bars taxpayer support for any group that discriminates. Boy Scout officials said it was about preserving their culture, protecting the right of private organisations to remain exclusive, and defending traditions such as requiring members to swear an oath of duty to God and prohibiting membership by anyone who is openly homosexual.

This week the Boy Scouts made their last stand and lost.

"At the end of the day, you cannot be in a city-owned facility being subsidised by the taxpayers and not have language in your lease that talks about non-discrimination," said a councillor, Darrell Clarke, who represents the district where the building is located. "Negotiations are over."

He said talks ended this week when the deadline passed for the chapter to change its policy; on June 1 the group will be evicted.

"Since we were founded, we believe that open homosexuality would be inconsistent with the values that we want to communicate with our leaders," said Gregg Shields, a national spokesman for the Boy Scouts. "A belief in God is also mentioned in the Scout oath. We believe that those values are important. Tradition is important. Our mission is to instil those values in Scouts and help them make good choices over their lifetimes."

In 2000 the Supreme Court decided a caseinvolving an openly gay Scout who was barred from serving as troop leader. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that, as a private organisation, the group had a First Amendment right to set its membership rules.

The issue became a concern in Philadelphia in May 2003 when the national Boy Scouts held their annual meeting in the city.

During the conference, a local Scout challenged the organisation's policies by announcing on television that he was gay and that he was a devoted member of the organisation. He was promptly dismissed by the local chapter, which is called the Cradle of Liberty Council.

Local Scout leaders said they had tried hard to find a compromise between the city and their national office.

In 2005 the chapter was poised to agree on a policy statement adopted by the Boy Scouts in New York, which affirmed that "prejudice, intolerance and unlawful discrimination in any form are unacceptable".

But last year city officials wrote to the Cradle of Liberty Council, saying the statement could not be reconciled with the city's anti-discrimination ordinance.

The New York Times

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