CHILDREN are dying in the streets. Cops are targets. The murder toll is one a day.
But City Hall thinks Public Enemy No. 1 is the Boy Scouts of America.
City Solicitor Rom- ulo Diaz, backed by a weak-spined City Council, has pursued the Scouts with something akin to vengeance, cloaked in the language of equality.
But the truth is different.
Philadelphia has a policy that bars unlawful discrimination against members of the GLBT community. For those not fluent in acronym-ish, that means gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. The solicitor's office has interpreted this to mean that no organization getting public funds can make any distinctions based on sexual orientation or, to state it another way, any organization that appears to discriminate will be denied taxpayer subsidies.
That sounds reasonable, although there is a question as to whether sexual orientation rises to the level of race or religion when determining fundamental rights under the Constitution.
But let's assume the city's policy is justified, and it is fully entitled to deny funding to organizations that it considers discriminatory.
How then does Philadelphia have the right to evict the Boy Scouts from a home they not only built at their own expense, but have maintained and put to incredibly good use for nearly a century?
Solicitor Diaz has a simple answer: By letting the Scouts use land that belongs to the city for the nominal rent of $1 a year, the city is subsidizing discrimination since it's foregoing rent from another tenant who could pay the market rate. And they've conveniently put the market value of this majestic building on Winter Street at $200,000. If, of course, there are any tenants out there willing to pay it.
It's a great leap of logic to say that because the Scouts aren't paying rent that they're being subsidized by the city. It's not as if the $200,000 that they're not paying (and which would probably not be paid by any other organization with a non-comatose CEO) is being used for the enrichment of the Boy Scouts.
Quite the opposite. This is an organization that has done more good for more children in this crime-ravaged city than most of the other so-called charitable groups in the City of Brotherly Love.
They run camps for underprivileged boys from single-parent families. They provide a safe haven for those who might otherwise have no alternative than to run with a dangerous crowd. They are dedicated to the enrichment of our community and have created an empire of accomplishment, boy by boy.
But solicitor Diaz, a member of the GLBT community, is opposed to the Scouts because they exclude openly gay scouts and scoutmasters.
He is supported in this by a majority of City Council and other movers and shakers in City Hall. And, for that matter, most of the public personalities in Philadelphia because it certainly doesn't help to be labeled a homophobe, which is what happens when you say that the campaign against the Scouts is mean-spirited.
It's interesting that our fair city isn't equally upset that the Boy Scouts exclude atheists. Just a hunch, but that might be because the non-believers don't have such a well-oiled public relations machine as the GLBT community.
And that's why I'm outraged at this seeming crusade against the Boy Scouts of America.
At a time when this city is awash in blood, and we need as many safe havens for our children as possible, Philadelphia decides to go after an organization that is politically uncomfortable.
Politics shouldn't trump the welfare of children, nor should it blind us to the law.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, as a private organization, the Scouts had a right to exclude gay members under the First Amendment.
BUT MANY municipalities, angered by the decision, passed ordinances that barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Philadelphia was no exception, banning taxpayer subsidies to groups that "unlawfully discriminate."
But according to the Supremes, it's not unlawful to exclude gays. People might not like it. People might think it's unfair. But it doesn't violate this society's basic principles. And it's not as if the Scouts go out of their way to exclude sexual minorities. They have what amounts to a "don't ask/don't tell" policy - just like the U.S. military.
But that's not enough for our fair city, which demands justice for "out" scouts at the expense of all needy boys. Those are some skewed priorities.
And, finally, can you imagine the public relations disaster for the city if they have to evict the Scouts from their own building?
I hope the cameras are focused squarely on the officers charged with that obligation. *
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. See her on Channel 6's "Inside Story" Sunday at 11:30 a.m. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.