The city and the local Boy Scouts council should have settled their clash over the scouts' antigay policy without the need to file a federal lawsuit.

Given the scouts' discriminatory policy, the city shouldn't allow the Cradle of Liberty Council to stay rent-free in city-owned headquarters near Logan Square. But the council says it cannot afford the city's exorbitant rent demand of $200,000.

This impasse hasn't changed much in more than two years. The scouts' council filed suit to stave off a deadline of yesterday to either change the membership policy, pay up or move out. The city shouldn't have allowed the deadlock to reach this point.

The suit contends that the city is violating the Boy Scouts' right to free speech by punishing the group for its antigay "viewpoint." That's an ironic argument from an organization whose national membership rules essentially muzzle or exclude some individuals due to their sexual orientation.

Nobody is questioning the essential service that the Cradle of Liberty Council performs for 70,000 scouts in Philadelphia, Montgomery and Delaware Counties. But the fact remains that the national organization's policy discriminates by banning gays and atheists from scouting.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the scouts' policy is permissible because the organization is a private group. But the city has a duty to enforce its antidiscrimination laws. Eliminating the Boy Scouts' perk of using a city property rent-free is the correct course.

The City of Berkeley, Calif., took similar action, revoking the free use of a marina for a scouts group. The California Supreme Court upheld the move, and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the ruling to stand.

But the city's correct legal stance doesn't absolve the city of trying everything within its power to keep the scouts in Philadelphia. Eighty years ago, the Boy Scouts' Cradle of Liberty built the headquarters on city property. The local council spent $1.5 million in 1994 to renovate the building, and has spent about $60,000 annually in recent years on maintenance.

City officials have known they must come to grips on the rent issue since at least 2003. An interim agreement reached in 2005, under which the local Boy Scouts pledged to oppose "any form of unlawful discrimination," had no real meaning. The Supreme Court had given the organization permission to discriminate legally.

Given the unique nature of this arrangement begun in 1928, it's reasonable for the scouts' council to receive some compensation for its costs. The city asked the scouts for documentation of its expenses, but hasn't offered the council anything.

"We haven't made a determination that it would be appropriate or necessary," said Doug Oliver, spokesman for Mayor Nutter.

It

is

appropriate. The best of all solutions would be for the city and the scouts to agree on a fair rent that takes into consideration the contributions to the community provided by this venerable local nonprofit.

Short of that, the city should put a dollar value on the improvements to the scouts' headquarters and make an offer.