Scouts file for dismissal

Scouts file for dismissal

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The local Boy Scouts council this week asked a federal judge to dissolve the temporary injunction preventing the group’s eviction from a city-owned building, and replace it with a permanent injunction, allowing it to stay there indefinitely.

The 38-page motion for summary judgment — accompanied by 26 exhibits — was filed with U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter on March 1.

City officials want to evict the Cradle of Liberty Council from 231-251 N. 22nd St. because the council won’t permit gay participants, nor will it pay the annual fair-market rent of $200,000.

But the Scouts maintain the city is violating their First Amendment right to exclude gays, and their 14th Amendment right to be treated the same as other groups with exclusionary policies.

“The city has impermissibly conditioned Cradle of Liberty’s participation in the city’s program of allowing nonprofit organizations to use city-owned property for nominal rent on Cradle of Liberty’s relinquishment of its First Amendment right to expressive association,” the motion states.

Additionally, the motion states that future court proceedings in the matter should be limited to determining the amount of damages and legal fees the Scouts are entitled to.

Rebecca Lacher, an attorney for the city, declined to comment on the March 1 motion. “Our comments will be contained in the response that we file,” Lacher told PGN.

Jason P. Gosselin, a lawyer for the Scouts, had no comment for this story.

The Scouts’ motion contends that the city’s eviction attempt “is motivated solely by its hostility to Cradle of Liberty’s leadership policy,” and repeatedly cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the Scouts to ban openly gay adult leaders.

But city officials are seeking protections not only for gay adults, but also for gay youths — and the Scouts refuse to come into compliance by updating their anti-bias policies, according to court papers.

The Scouts’ motion also states city officials have acted unfairly because they haven’t made a carve-out for the council’s operations in Wayne, which isn’t under the purview of the city’s anti-bias code.

The Scouts filed their federal lawsuit in May 2008 and, the following month, city officials filed an eviction action in state court against them.

Buckwalter issued the temporary injunction in November 2009, noting that eviction of the Scouts might violate their constitutional rights. He said more litigation was needed before a judge could rule on the eviction matter.

The Scouts’ motion also asks Buckwalter to reject the city’s request that the council pay about $340,000 in back rent to the city.

The motion asserts that the city is trying to enforce its gay-rights ordinances in an unconstitutional manner by trying to impose a pro-gay viewpoint onto the Scouts.

In prior court filings, city attorneys have denied trying to impose a pro-gay viewpoint onto any city tenant. To the contrary, city officials note that tenants may hold a wide range of views on homosexuality.

But delivery of services must be provided regardless of a recipient’s sexual orientation, and the Scouts refuse to bring their use of the building into conformance with city anti-bias codes, according to court papers filed by the city.

The Scouts’ motion reiterates that several Fairmount Park tenants appear to have exclusionary policies, including St. Joseph’s University, Colonial Dames of America, Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club, the Roman Catholic Church of Nativity BVM, Women for Greater Philadelphia and The Royal Heritage Society of the Delaware Valley.

In prior filings, city attorneys noted that the Scouts haven’t shown any substantiated incidents of discrimination by those organizations.

City attorneys also say efforts are underway to ensure that all city tenants refrain from discrimination by signing leases that contain anti-bias language.

But due to limited resources, the development and signing of those leases cannot happen simultaneously, according to court papers filed by the city.

City attorneys have until March 15 to respond to the summary-judgment motion, if an extension isn’t granted. Then, the Scouts have 14 days to reply to the city’s response.

The Scouts are in rental arrears of about $340,000, and that figure could reach $1 million before all appeals are exhausted in the matter, according to court records.

Earlier this year, city attorneys filed a motion asking that Buckwalter require the Scouts to post a “substantial” bond to protect the city’s financial interest while the litigation ensues.

At press time, Buckwalter hadn’t yet ruled on the bond request.

Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.

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