On June 23rd, a federal jury found in favor of the Philadelphia Cradle of Liberty Boy Scouts chapter in its case against the city. The chapter has been in a seven-year-long legal dispute with Philadelphia concerning its anti-gay policy barring gay boys and men from entering their organization. The city told the Scouts that they either had to lift their ban or no longer receive city-subsidized rent. The Scouts argued that making them choose between repealing their policy, eviction, or paying the fair market value of $200,000 a year for their Center City location was an infringement of their First Amendment rights.
The argument never concerned whether or not the Boy Scouts had a constitutional right to discriminate. Unfortunately, a 2000 Supreme Court case ruled that the Scouts have a First Amendment right to exclude gay boys and men. City officials recognized this but argued that they could not subsidize the Scout’s rent because their anti-gay policy is inconsistent with the city charter’s anti-discrimination policies.
After the city threatened to stop charging the chapter a mere $1 rent per year, the local council adopted a non-discrimination policy in 2003. However, the chapter was told to revoke the policy by the National Council. In 2004, “the [local] council tried to thread that needle by adopting a statement saying it would not engage in ‘unlawful’ discrimination or accept prejudice and intolerance within its ranks.” Mayor Michael Nutter found this statement too vague to override the scout’s discriminatory practices.
In court, the Scouts argued that their right to free speech was violated and that they were suffering from viewpoint discrimination. Leaders of the chapter also argued that other groups with selective membership rules such as the Roman Catholic Church and Colonial Dames of America receive subsidized rent. The city argued that it was regulating “conduct, not speech” and that “Philadelphia also has ‘broad discretion to make selective funding decisions.’”
While this recent decision is certainly a blow for those fighting discrimination in the city, it is not necessarily the end of this struggle. Mayor Nutter said, “while the good work of the Boy Scouts cannot be disputed, the city remains steadfast in its commitment to prevent its facilities from being used to disadvantage certain groups.” City Solicitor Shelley Smith said, “‘…the potential exists that the verdict is flawed. We will be exploring our options.”
Even if there is not a way for the city to evict the Scouts while citing their discriminatory practices, both the Scouts and the city agree that “the city has the right to evict them without giving any reason at all.”
The recent jury decision is discouraging, but the fight to stop taxpayer dollars from subsidizing a discriminatory organization is not over. We encourage you to call Mayor Nutter’s office and tell him that you appreciate the work he has been doing to ensure that the city government does not support discrimination, 215-686-2181.
Photo from the Library of Congress’s Flickr stream