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Scouts ignore gay-policy deadline

They held off on lifting a ban also barring atheists. The city said it would look for a new tenant for their Logan headquarters.

Romulo L. Diaz Jr. , city solicitor.
Romulo L. Diaz Jr. , city solicitor.Read more

The Philadelphia chapter of the Boy Scouts of America ignored yesterday a deadline set by City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. to publicly renounce its membership bar against people who are openly homosexual or atheists if the organization wishes to remain in its landmark headquarters on city-owned land.

"We're letting it pass. We feel it's a political, arbitrary deadline," said Jeff Jubelirer, spokesman for the 64,000-member Cradle of Liberty Council, which includes Philadelphia and parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties.

The scouts have been on notice for seven months that they will be evicted on May 31 if they do not drop the policies.

Diaz could not be reached for comment yesterday. Mayor Street issued a statement yesterday saying the Cradle of Liberty Council could remain in the headquarters under a new lease, to take effect June 2, "by paying fair market rent to the city."

The statement said the city "will respect the right of the Cradle of Liberty Council to respond to the city's notice before the city considers appropriate next steps."

Diaz has said that if the scouts did not respond by his Dec. 3 deadline - by either relenting on the policy or paying a $200,000-a-year "fair-market rent" - he would actively begin looking for a new tenant for the 79-year-old building at 22d and Winter Streets near Logan Square.

The Cradle of Liberty Council built the Beaux Arts structure in 1928 on Fairmount Park land that the city agreed to lease to it in perpetuity for a dollar a year.

Perpetuity, however, could not outlast recent U.S. Supreme Court cases holding that taxpayer money cannot be used to support private groups that knowingly discriminate.

Last year, Diaz wrote to the scouts that it was impossible to reconcile the group's policies on homosexuals and atheists with the city's antidiscrimination fair-practices law.

Cradle of Liberty officials maintain that they have used a "don't ask, don't tell" practice but cannot change the policies without violating their charter from the national scouting organization.

Jubelirer said the scouts should not be required to pay additional rent for a building the scouting council built, spent $2.6 million renovating in 1994, and pays $60,000 a year to maintain.

"The council could not afford it, and it's not feasible," Jubelirer added.

Jubelirer said the Cradle of Liberty Council would not decide what it will do before January. Among its options would be to file suit against the city over eviction, a decision the national council has backed in similar stalemates.

None of those lawsuits, however, has successfully reversed a local government decision to end a preferential lease with a scout group.

Although January will see the beginning of a new administration at City Hall - and, possibly, changes at the Law Department - Jubelirer said scouting officials were cautious about expecting a change in the city's position.

During his recent election campaign, Mayor-elect Michael Nutter said the city should stand behind its commitment to equal rights for all citizens, especially when it involves city property.

"We're still hopeful we'll be able to work something out," Jubelirer said.