Philadelphia Jury Says Scouts Cannot Be Evicted For Gay Ban

Boy Scouts win federal court battle over rules banning gays.

June 24, 2010, 10:43 AM

June 24, 2010— -- A federal jury has ruled that Philadelphia cannot evict a Boy Scout chapter from city-owned property because the scouts ban gays, but the city is reviewing further legal challenges to the group's anti-gay ban.

The jury found the city's demand that the scouts end its ban on gays in order to use city property violated the scout council's First Amendment rights.

Even as Boy Scout officials declared victory Wednesday night, city officials said they were reviewing their plans. City Solicitor Shelley Smith said, "The potential exists that the verdict is flawed. We will be exploring our options."

In a statement, the city said: "While the good work of the Boy Scouts cannot be disputed, the city remains steadfast in its commitment to prevent its facilities from being used to disadvantage certain groups."

In the lawsuit, the scouts had sought an injunction barring the city from evicting them, or charging $200,000 a year in rent, on their stately headquarters building near Logan Square.

While the verdict seemed to strengthen the scouts' position in negotiations with the city, U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter did not immediately issue an injunction barring their eviction because of the national organization's policy that homosexuals cannot be scouts or troop leaders.

Buckwalter told jurors the city's anti-discrimination policy is "principled" and said he hoped the two "honorable institutions" could come to an agreement.

The city still could terminate the lease under the 1928 agreement, which was designed to give nonprofits free rent if they maintained the sites. The city must terminate the lease for a legally permissible reason, the judge said, not because of an organization's views.

Boy Scouts Claim Victory in Fight to Ban Gays

Jason Gosselin, who represented the scouts, said the verdict strengthened their negotiating position. "The city can't come in and impose its views on what the scouts ought to do," he said.

"We can't be kicked out of the building or evicted, and we don't have to pay any rent," another attorney for the scouts, William M. McSwain, said after the unanimous verdict by a jury of six women and two men.

One of the jurors, foreman Merrill Arbogast, 40, a trucker and former Eagle Scout, said: "We do hope that eventually national (Boy Scouts of America) will change its minds. But at this point, the Cradle of Liberty (Council) is still obligated to follow its policy."

Greg Lattera, now 18, testified that he was kicked out of the scouts in 2003 after he appeared in uniform on TV to declare he that he was gay. The Cradle of Liberty Council sued the city over an ultimatum to either renounce a national scouting policy against gays or be evicted from the city building it has been renting for $1 a year since 1928.

In testimony last week, the council's retired chief executive, Bill Dwyer, said the city ultimatum not only violates the council's First Amendment rights but also "would put us out of business."

A lawyer for the city, David Smith, told the jury that the local scout leaders were "speaking out of both sides of their mouths" when they initially agreed with the city's anti-discrimination policy but then continued to use the national group's employment application, which stated that homosexuals, atheists, and agnostics would not be hired.

Soon after Lattera was kicked out the Boy Scouts, the city began pressuring the Cradle of Liberty Council to renounce the national scouting policy which discriminates against homosexuals. That national policy was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.

The Cradle of Liberty Council agreed in 2004 to a statement that it would oppose all "unlawful discrimination" but the city later insisted it go even further and disown the national policy.

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