A local Boy Scouts of America council has lost its five-year legal fight to occupy a city-owned facility near the Ben Franklin Parkway, but it will receive $825,000 in city tax dollars to settle the litigation.
Under terms of the settlement, which was announced May 3, the BSA Cradle of Liberty Council will leave the facility by June 30.
A retail store that sells items associated with Scouting will vacate the premises by Oct. 31.
In return, the city will give Cradle $825,000 for improvements to the building that Cradle reportedly made over the years.
Mark McDonald, a spokesperson for the Nutter administration, said the $825,000 will come from the city’s general fund, which is supported by tax dollars.
“I don’t have any idea when [Cradle] gets the money,” he told PGN.
He said the Nutter administration was pleased with the settlement.
“We think this is the best course,” McDonald added. “It’s a good result.”
R.Duane Perry, an LGBT advocate, expressed mixed feelings about the settlement.
“The Scouts don’t get to discriminate on city property,” Perry noted. “That’s a good outcome. But the city is paying $825,000 for improvements that it was not obligated to pay for. So it’s a sweetheart deal. It’s not right for city taxpayers to give $825,000 to an organization that discriminates.”
Perry also expressed hope that the city will sell the building through a public-bidding process.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if the proceeds went to organizations that fights homophobia?” Perry posed.
McDonald had no comment about the possibility of selling the building.
“What happens to the property at 22nd and Winter streets is a subject for another day,” he said.
McDonald said the settlement allows Cradle to remove some items associated with Scouting.
“They do get to take a statue in front of the building and a couple of other little things that are adornments related to Scouting,” McDonald said.
Perry expressed hope that details of the entire settlement will be released to the public, as soon as possible.
Cradle filed a federal suit against the city in 2008, claiming its civil rights were violated due to the city’s eviction efforts.
Two years later, a federal jury issued a mixed verdict.
Jurors ruled that the city’s overall eviction effort was reasonable, but that the city acted unreasonably when asking Cradle to repudiate BSA’s antigay policy in order to remain in the building rent-free.
After the verdict was handed down, Cradle claimed the city owed it about $1 million in legal fees.
But Perry said the city had a strong chance of prevailing on appeal, in which case it wouldn’t have to pay Cradle’s legal fees.
The matter was pending at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals when the settlement was announced.
The Scouts have occupied the building since 1928, but they’ve been in conflict with the city’s antibias rules for decades, because they refuse to allow lesbian, gay and atheist participants.
Margaret A. Downey, president of the Freethought Society, expressed concern with the settlement.
“It’s outrageous that Cradle is getting any of our tax dollars, because they blatantly violate the law and discriminate against many groups, including nontheists,” Downey told PGN. “But at least they’re getting out of the building, which they should have done a long time ago.”
Downey added: “The Parkway building should become a community center that houses many different organizations that fight discrimination, including discrimination against nontheists.”
Kera Armstrong, a Cradle spokesperson, couldn’t be reached for comment, at press time.