SO LET'S START by tossing the local Boy Scouts a bone.

In their lawsuit against the city, filed last week in federal court, the Scouts allege that the city is wrong for issuing an ultimatum:

The Scouts' Cradle of Liberty Council must either change its discriminatory policies or start paying $200,000 rent on city-owned property that it now occupies for a dollar a year. If the Cradle chooses neither option, it'll be booted from its home of 80 years. That's because the city doesn't want to subsidize an organization whose policies violate the Fair Practices Ordinance.

The Cradle alleges that the city is targeting the organization in a way it doesn't target other groups that also enjoy low rent on city-owned property and that also may be in violation of the ordinance.

If that's the case, the Cradle has made an excellent argument. But it has fumbled its conclusion, which seems to be: "If others discriminate, why can't we?"

The city, thankfully, has responded to that question the right way, with: "If others are discriminating, we'll go after them, too."

The Cradle has chosen to bite the hand that has fed it for 80 years because it doesn't want to bite the other hand that has fed it - the Boy Scouts of America National Council.

Not that it hasn't tried.

Back in 2003, the Cradle adopted an anti-discrimination policy, in direct opposition to the pro-discrimination policy of the national council. A bold, right-headed move, it seemed to honor the local council's very name: liberty.

The national council, though, threatened to pull the Cradle's charter if it didn't stay in alignment with its policy of excluding gays and atheists from its ranks.

The Cradle could've responded by calling the national council's bluff. It could've formed, say, an anti-discrimination coalition with the leadership of other influential, similarly enlightened councils - New York, Boston, Chicago, L.A.

"Revoke one charter," they could've sneered at the national council, "then revoke them all!"

In other words, they could've exercised Scout traits of leadership and bravery.

Instead, the Cradle caved and its board begged the city to pull back on evicting them, arguing that the Cradle needed time to convince the national council to change.

"This board is totally committed to changing the discrimination policy," then-board president David Lipson told me in September 2003. "But pulling our funding, pulling the lease - that's not going to help. If we reverse the policy, and the board gets fired, we might be replaced with a board not as committed to change as we are. What will that accomplish? What we need is time."

How much? I asked.

"One to two years," he said. "Hopefully less."

In the five years since, the Cradle hasn't convinced the national council to do the right thing. So it has decided that the right thing now is to sue the city.

So much for leadership and bravery.

The only place where the Cradle may have a valid point is when it argues that the city's demand for $200,000 rent is far and above what even top-shelf

real-estate rents for downtown.

If that's so, then maybe the city should take a second look at its initial appraisal of the property, which sits near new, million-dollar condos, just up the block from the Four Seasons, and has its own parking lot.

Heck, maybe it's worth even more than that.

Everything else in its lawsuit reads like so much defensive, legal blather, mostly because it's common knowledge that the Cradle knows that its discrimination stance is repugnant.

The fact that its board feels powerless about having to take it makes it no less repugnant a stance. Nor does the fact that the city took so long to notice it, given that the Fair Practices Ordinance took effect in 1982.

So change your policies, Cradle. If not, pay up or move out.

Payment, of one kind or another, is long overdue. *

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns: