This may be the last free Thanksgiving dinner for the Boy Scouts of Philadelphia.
Citing a local 1982 "fair practices" law, the city solicitor has given the Scouts until Dec. 3 to renounce its policy of excluding homosexuals or forfeit the grand, Beaux-Arts building it has rented from the city for $1 a year since 1928.
"While we respect the right of the Boy Scouts to prohibit participation in its activities by homosexuals," the solicitor, Romulo Diaz, said last week in an interview, "we will not subsidize that discrimination by passing on the costs to the people of Philadelphia."
The city has yet to complete an official assessment of the property. But it has tentatively placed the market value at $200,000 a year and has invited the Boy Scouts to remain in the nearly 100-year-old building as paying tenants.
The confrontation between the city and the nation's third-largest Scouts chapter has been building for four years, with each side blaming the other for backing out of previous agreements and for escalating tensions.
The Supreme Court ruled seven years ago that the national Boy Scouts, as a private organization, had the right to exclude homosexuals from its ranks. The Boy Scouts also prohibit atheists and agnostics from employment on the grounds that such beliefs are inconsistent with the values of the country's largest youth organization. Two years ago, Congress passed the Support Our Scouts Act to protect chapters from local government attempts to strip them of access to public facilities in response to the anti-homosexual policy.
Cradle of Liberty says it serves more than 64,000 youths, mostly from the inner city, and that, as a result, its programming is centered more on mentoring and after-school programs instead of suburban camping trips. But it also hosts the oldest scouting event in the country, a three-day annual encampment at Valley Forge. Each year, thousands of troops gather to commemorate the harsh winter that George Washington spent there with Continental army soldiers.
Jubelirer said the council board has not decided how it will respond on Dec. 3 and is weighing its options, including a legal fight. What it would like is another compromise, and Jubelirer said it is hoping the city's next Democratic mayor, Michael Nutter, will be more amenable to a deal after his January swearing-in.
But Diaz said he had the support of Nutter and the city council, which voted in May to evict the Scouts if they did not change the policy.
"If I do not receive an executed lease, signed by the Boy Scouts, to remain as tenants paying a fair market rent, we will begin looking for alternative tenants that can take over the property June 1, 2008," Diaz said.
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