SO MICHAEL Nutter is "astounded" that the Boy Scouts had the "audacity" to file a lawsuit against the city.

Join the club, Mayor.

I'm also astounded. And elated. And I'm definitely not alone.

It finally looks as if the local Cradle of Liberty chapter has stopped playing by the Marquis of Queensbury rules, and is taking on the municipal bullies

who've been persecuting them since Nutter's predecessor sat in his bugged office.

We all know the gory details, but here's a brief chronology:

In 2003, John Street asked the city Law Department to examine the arrangement between the city and the Cradle of Liberty that allowed it to occupy rent-free the building it'd built and maintained with its own funds.

The solicitor's office concluded that in excluding avowed gays and atheists from membership, the chapter violated the city's 1982 Fair Practices ordinance, which bans discrimination based on, among other things, sexual orientation. It did this even though the Supreme Court had already ruled that the Scouts had a First Amendment right to exclude these groups.

Of course, it's not surprising that the Law Department decided the city could overrule the Supremes. This is the same office that just assured the mayor it was OK to violate the state constitution (not to mention the Second Amendment) by passing spurious gun laws.

How embarrassing!

Anyway, in the spirit of compromise, the Cradle of Liberty adopted a nondiscrimination pledge that was good enough for one city solicitor, and everyone thought the matter had been satisfactorily resolved.

But a new city solicitor named Romulo Diaz decided that the Scouts were the scourge of the city because they refused to allow avowed gays and atheists to learn how to tie square knots.

The fact that the Scouts would have been perfectly happy to welcome these boys (and leaders) as long as they didn't trumpet their sexual orientation or non-faith was lost on the city. The fact that the Supreme Court in 2000 ruled that they had the right to do this was irrelevant. The city wanted to force the Scouts to publicly acknowledge that gays and atheists were welcome in their fold. Or else.

The "or else" became a threat of eviction, or the requirement that the Scouts pay some $200,000 annual "fair market" rent for the magnificent monument they'd built 80 years ago on Winter Street. The building they'd paid for. The building they'd renovated to the tune of more than a million dollars. The building out of which they operated valuable - indeed critical - programs to serve the boys of Philadelphia. Kids without fathers. Without role models. Stuck in violent neighborhoods.

Essentially, the city wanted to punish this safe haven for having, as Nutter would say, the "audacity" to defy its politically correct party line.

For months, it seemed as if the City of Brotherly Petulance would get its way, and the Scouts would have to put on their knapsacks and hit the trail.

Many of us were upset that they didn't come out fighting when the city basically told them that they were going to have to defy the national organization and lose their charter or shoulder a financial burden that would kill them.

But they were Scouts, and the Scouts are nothing if not honorable. They tried to serve two masters, the national organization and the city they've enriched for almost a century. Even when the Supreme Court told them they were completely justified in hewing to their "morally straight" credo (while others labeled them prejudiced and antediluvian), the Cradle of Liberty tried to compromise.

They didn't want to abandon the boys of this city, the way so many other adults had done. They wanted to continue to provide them with an escape from the pain and the blight and the bullets. You'd think Michael Nutter would understand that, given his aversion to guns and the thugs who carry them.

But unfortunately, the city had a different agenda, one more concerned with placating special-

interest groups that like to flex their muscles more than they care about these at-risk kids.

So, pushed to the wall, the Scouts finally put up their fists and began to defend themselves. They found lawyers to represent them pro bono, and filed a lawsuit saying their constitutional rights were being violated.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't the ACLU that came to their defense. They're more interested in protecting the rights of Nazis who want to march through Skokie than kids about to lose a lifeline. Much to its credit, Drinker Biddle and Reath has taken on the challenge.

Hitting back at political correctness. Now that's real audacity. *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.