Eight days shy of the eviction deadline imposed by the city of Philadelphia, the Cradle of Liberty Boy Scout Council is striking back. On Friday, Scout officials filed suit in federal court to end a longstanding struggle with the city over a building that the council built and has occupied since 1928 for $1 a year.
In a public war over the Scouts’ membership policy which bars homosexuals from joining, Philadelphia’s leaders have threatened to pull the rug out from under the Cradle’s headquarters. City officials say their demands are entirely justifiable under a 26-year-old city ordinance that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
As Philly’s mayor sees it, the Scouts have three choices. They can vacate the premises by May 31, open their doors to gay members and staff, or pay $200,000 in annual rent. Cradle of Liberty elected the fourth option—suing for their right to privately assemble on public property as other organizations have done without reproach.
The city’s demands would be somewhat understandable in a politically correct environment had it not welcomed other religious and civic groups to use Philly facilities at minimal charge. The Scouts will argue—and rightly so—that have been unfairly targeted for eviction.
Considering that the Cradle of Liberty spent $1.5 million renovating the space in the mid-’90s and pays about $60,000 a year in upkeep, it would be in the city’s best interest to maintain the tenancy. Philadelphia has also benefited from 80 years of the Scouts’ influence on young boys in a city where gangs and violence rates soar.
It’s incredibly ironic that the city is begging for million of state dollars to combat urban problems, while at the same time trying to force out one of the greatest crime deterrents in all of Philadelphia—a character-building youth program that serves 70,000 boys.
The focus may rest squarely on the City of Brotherly Love now, but the case has national implications for religious freedom. If the city is successful in bringing the Scouts to their knees, other towns will be emboldened to do the same. But if the Cradle of Liberty prevails, fewer people will be willing to challenge the Scouts’ rights to adhere to a traditional moral code.
Tony Perkins heads the Family Research Council. This article is excerpted from the Washington Update that he compiles for the FRC.