Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Philadelphia Boy Scouts and a lesson on Civics

Generally speaking, I respond to comments inside the same thread of the post they originated. However, a post I made yesterday involving the Philadelphia Boy Scouts suing the city had prompted a comment that deserves being called out on in a post of it's own.

The comment left by Batman can be seen here but is reproduced as follows:

I guess I missed the part of the First Amendment where the government is required to subsidize your organization even if it disagrees with your message. This lawsuit will not work. If the people of Philly are dissatisfied with this result, then they will elect new leaders.
Now, to be certain, I am not an attorney (nor have I ever portrayed one on TV), but given the logic in Batman's post, either I was taught a dramatically different level of Civics 101, or perhaps he was absent that year, because he is clearly off-base.

BSA's Cradle of Liberty Council (COL) in Philadelphia has filed suit against the City of Philadelphia (PDF), and upon my reading it seems they have a legitimate complaint; it is very possible Batman hasn't taken the opportunity to read it before he expounded on the matter.    

  • COL contends that their 1st Amendment right of free association has been abridged by the City of Philadelphia. Their argument is that the City wants them evicted from their offices on the grounds that COL's membership is in conflict with the City's Fair Practices Ordinance.  To date, it appears the City has only pursued this course of action against COL, and not any of the ~100 leases containing similarly favorable terms granted to other organizations that limit membership or services to particular groups (i.e. Roman Catholic Church of the the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Zion Baptist Church, Women for Greater Philadelphia & Colonial Dames of America).  By focusing its energies on only the Scouts, it would appear that only COL's terms limiting membership (i.e. free association) are being considered a violation of the Fair Practices Ordinance.  
  • COL contends they reached a resolution with the City in 2004, and adopted a Non Discrimination Statement that was approved by COL, the National BSA Council, and the City.  To date, the City has never stated COL has violated this non discrimination statement.  Yet in 2005, the City demanded clarification from COL of the term unlawful discrimination used in the approved non discrimination statement.  18 months later, the City declared COL  had to abandon its constitutionally protected membership policy or pay fair market rent for its building, an amount reportedly more than double the per square foot rent for the highest priced space in the city.  COL contends that on the next business day, the Fairmount Park Commission voted to terminate the COL's use of its headquarters.  COL maintains it never received any notice of the meeting or the vote, nor was the matter on the published agenda for the Commission.   While discussions with COL and the City were ongoing, the Philadelphia City Council introduced and passed a resolution approving the eviction of COL on 31 May 2007 without notice to COL or debate within the Council.    

The City can easily and immediately repudiate the above claims by producing evidence that COL is/was in violation of the agreed upon Non Discrimination Statement, or by providing proof of public notice being issued (i.e. a copy of the Philadelphia Daily News or other such publication typically used for public notices), or showing evidence that organizations other than COL have faced eviction under similar manner which would demonstrate COL's constitutional right to Equal Protection wasn't violated.   Like I said: easy, right?
  • As for Batman's concern for COL being subsidized by the City... since the Scouts built the building with their own funds, and have maintained it for 80 years without cost to the City, and should the effort to evict COL succeed, the City of Philadelphia would take ownership of a property and building that has been substantially improved as compared to the plot granted by the City in 1928.  Since the published reports claim the City estimates the lease value of said building and property at about $200,000/yr  - in no small part to the maintenance and improvements made over the years -  due compensation to COL for these same improvements is only appropriate.  
Time will tell, of course.  And if Batman isn't pleased with the outcome, he, too, is invited to vote for new leaders.  Perhaps these next ones will have more experience in civics, but you can never be sure.

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