The long-awaited Boy Scouts trial is finally underway, with the fate of the local Cradle of Liberty Council ultimately in the hands of eight federal jurors.
The jury panel — composed of six women and two men — must decide whether the Scouts’ right to exclude gays trumps the city’s right to prevent anti-gay bias within city-owned buildings.
The Scouts occupy a city-owned building at 231-251 N. 22nd St., but refuse to permit openly gay participants or pay fair-market rent.
The city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, along with other municipal codes, specifically bans antigay bias within city-owned buildings.
The Scouts want the jury to grant them the right to remain in the building permanently, without paying any rent. The council also seeks $860,000 from the city in legal fees and costs.
The city wants the jury to grant it the right to evict the Scouts and to collect $333,000 in back rent.
On June 15, during opening arguments, Scouts attorney Jason P. Gosselin told jurors that city officials are trying to “coerce” the local council into making statements about the rights of homosexuals that the council doesn’t wish to make.
“The city cannot force Cradle of Liberty to say something that Cradle of Liberty doesn’t have to say,” Gosselin told jurors.
But David Smith, an attorney for the city, told jurors the city isn’t trying to force the Scouts to do anything. He said there is no need for the Scouts to make any public comments about homosexuals or homosexuality.
However, Smith said, the Scouts must abide by the city’s anti-bias policies if they wish to remain inside a city-owned facility — or at least pay fair-market rent so the city isn’t subsidizing the Scouts’ discrimination.
Smith also told jurors the national Boy Scouts of America organization is the one “coercing” the Scouts into making statements about homosexuality — not city officials.
Gosselin also told the jurors that, although the Scouts have the right to discriminate against gays, the local Council never practices such bias because it disagrees with the ban.
Smith told jurors about a short-lived anti-bias policy covering sexual orientation that was temporarily enacted by the Cradle of Liberty Council in 2003. Smith said the council rescinded the policy after the national Boy Scouts of America organization threatened to revoke the council’s charter.
He also told jurors the local council follows orders from the national office, as it did when it expelled openly gay Scout Greg Lattera in 2003.
Smith said the local council’s frequent assertions of its right to discriminate has “chased away” many gays. Moreover, he said, the local council uses a job application form stating that no gays can be hired.
U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter is presiding over the trial, which is expected to wrap up this week.