Opening Statements Beginning in Scouts vs. City Trial
by KYW’s Steve Tawa
Opening statements were expected on Tuesday after an all-day Monday jury selection process in a federal civil trial the local Boy Scouts filed against the City of Philadelphia (see previous stories).
The central issue is whether the local scouting council can stay in its city-owned headquarters rent-free despite a national policy of banning gays.
The Cradle of Liberty Council — the Philadelphia Boy Scouts chapter — contends the city is violating the groups’ First Amendment right of free association, a right the US Supreme Court upheld in 2000, when a divided court ruled it was a “membership organization” and the scouts could decide who their members are.
City officials say that national policy banning gays violates the city’s non-discrimination rules and the Boy Scouts should not be able to take advantage of a rent-free arrangement while refusing to adhere to city policy of fair treatment for all citizens.
The local council has occupied the building at 22nd and Winter Streets, near Logan Square, since 1928 (file photo).
The Cradle of Liberty lawyers also contend that the city subsidizes rents charged to other groups with selective membership rules, including a Roman Catholic parish in Pennypack Park and a group preserving colonial-era artifacts at Lemon Hill Mansion in Fairmount Park.
Jurors will have to decide whether there’s merit to the scouts’ claim, or whether they should be evicted and how much back rent they owe.