Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Scouting: The Straight and Narrow

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Scouting: The Straight and Narrow

Article excerpt

Philadelphia City Council has given its Boy Scouts an ultimatum: change your ways or take a hike. In two months, the 64,000-strong Philadelphia Boy Scout troop will be evicted from the grand Italian Renaissance headquarters it built for itself 80 years ago, and for which it pays $1 a year rent to the local authority. The issue is not the rent but the policy of the Boy Scouts of America, which bans homosexuals, agnostics and atheists from its ranks.

The Philadelphia Scouts, the third-largest group in the US, is caught between its national leadership, which sticks to a literal reading of the Scout oath "to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight", and the Philadelphia council, which by law cannot subsidise discrimination.

The city has given notice that after 31 May, when the lease runs out, it will let the Scout building for a market rent of $200,000 a year, either to the Scouts or another tenant.

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The Philadelphia scouting controversy has rekindled the bitterness of 2000 following the Supreme Court's narrow five-to-four decision to back the Scouts' First Amendment rights over the individual rights of James Dale, a scoutmaster who was sacked because he is gay. The court declared that the Scouts operate much like a private club, with members invited to join and be approved by existing members, and that they were therefore free to bar those who offend them.

As a result, charities and public bodies with anti-discrimination policies stopped funding the Scouts. In Philadelphia, charities have withdrawn more than half a million dollars a year, resulting in a 50 per cent reduction in paid staff.

The Cradle of Liberty Council board, which runs the Philadelphia Scouts, tried in 2003 to opt out of the anti-gay dictum, but the national organisation overruled them. …

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