Scouts’ building battle goes to court

PHILADELPHIA. Should organizations with membership criteria be allowed to lease city-owned property for free or little cost?

That question is at the center of the longstanding battle between a local Boy Scouts group and the city of Philadelphia, which will play out in federal court this week. Jury selection took place yesterday and opening arguments are scheduled for today.

In 2006, the city ordered the Cradle of Liberty Council to pay $200,000 annually or face eviction from the building it has leased rent-free since 1928, claiming the national group’s ban on homosexuals violates the city’s anti-discrimination policy. The Cradle Council argues that the city does not hold other nonprofit organizations to the same standard.

“We’re going to talk about other leases that are held by organizations in Fairmount Park that also have membership criteria,” Jeff Jubelirer, a spokesman for the local group, said referring to The Colonial Dames of America Chapter II, Saint Joseph’s University and others. “[We are] basically saying the city can’t pick and choose. You have to be consistent.”

The city would not comment, citing the trial, but has said it has “broad discretion to make selective funding decisions.”

Jubelirer added that the local Scouts – with about 46,000 members in the Delaware Valley – cannot change the admission policy because it is part of the national group and risks losing significant funding.

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