PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Boy Scouts of America group will vacate its city-owned Philadelphia headquarters in return for $825,000 under an agreement that settles a long legal battle over the organization’s ban on gays, Mayor Michael Nutter’s office said Friday.
The Boy Scouts Cradle of Liberty Council staff will leave its downtown Philadelphia headquarters of 85 years by June 30 and the retail store in the building will close by Oct. 31. In exchange, the city will reimburse the Boy Scouts for improvements made to the building, Nutter’s office said.
The group’s rent-free use of the building came under fire after the Boy Scouts of America barred gays from membership. The city unsuccessfully sought to have the chapter evicted for violation of Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination policies.
Ultimately, the Cradle of Liberty Council decided that the battle was becoming a distraction and it was in the best interests of the city’s boys who they were trying to recruit to put an end to it, the group’s scout executive, Tom Harrington, said.
“If anything, this is good news that will help us renew our focus on serving those youth,” Harrington said.
A proposal under discussion by the Boy Scouts’ National Council to partially lift the policy — allowing gays as youth members but continuing to bar them as adult leaders — was followed closely by city officials, but it wasn’t going to go far enough, Harrington said.
Last year, a federal judge ordered the city to pay $877,000 for the Scouts’ legal fees to fight a battle that has gone on for years. The settlement announced Friday would relieve the city of paying legal fees and settle the lawsuit, which was being appealed to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said.
City Council had also rejected a previous proposal to resolve the conflict by selling the Scouts the building for $500,000.
The city insisted at a June 2010 trial that nonprofits given free use of its property must abide by local anti-discrimination laws, which include equal protection for gays. But the jury found the city’s reason violated the Scout council’s First Amendment rights.
Before that, the Cradle of Liberty Council had tried to appease the city, the United Way and other supporters and the Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts of America.
In 2003, it enacted its own nondiscrimination policy but was forced to repeal it when the Boy Scouts of America ordered it to conform to national rules. The chapter later enacted a statement that says it doesn’t tolerate illegal discrimination.
The Cradle of Liberty Council has about 17,000 members in Philadelphia and its suburbs.