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You can’t even buy a right

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2010

Two stories today reflect how issues of justice, rights, fairness, and civil responsibility are often presumed to disappear the minute that gay folk arrive. Far too often it is assumed, indignantly, that civil governments belong to heterosexuals.

Take, for example, the situation in Philadelphia.

In 2000, the US Supreme Court found that the Boy Scouts of America are a private organization and that their freedom of association allowed them to exclude gay and/or atheist boys and men from participating. And I agree with that decision; the Boy Scouts should be able to limit their membership in whatever manner that they choose.

However, if they choose to operate as a private organization, they are not entitled to preferential treatment from the taxpayers, who include a large number of gay people, atheists, and their family, friends, neighbors, and allies. In other words, discriminate however you like, but don’t do it on my dollar.

In Philadelphia the city counsel had passed protections that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But they found that they were in conflict with this policy when it came to the Boy Scouts. The Cradle of Liberty council has been leasing nearly 2,000 square feet of office space from the city at the cost of one dollar per year. So Philadelphia said that the local group either needed to renounce the discrimination policies of the national group or they were not going to get any more freebies.

But the leadership of the Boy Scouts believe that they are entitled to have it both ways. It’s discrimination, they cried, to not give us free rent. We can exclude who we want, and to insist that we open our city funded doors to all residents is a violation of our free speech rights.

So they went to court arguing that not only are they entitle to free assembly and free speech but that they are also entitled to free rent.

And a jury agreed. (WHYY)

A jury in Philadelphia has decided the city cannot evict a local Boy Scouts group from a city-owned building because of a national policy that bans gays.

Cradle of Liberty Council lawyer Jason Gosselin says the ruling means one simple fact: the Scouts can stay in their building in Center City rent free.

Meanwhile in Minneapolis, it seems like gay people don’t have a right to assembly, even if the city isn’t subsidizing them. (Tribune)

The gay pride organization paid the city more than $36,000 for the use of a park. And they are trying to keep an evangelist from coming into the festival and disrupting the event.

But the city thinks that the preacher has a right to free speech – something that is startlingly missing from gay folk.

But Pride Festival organizers say they have the right to keep Johnson off the grounds because they paid more than $36,000 for the use of the park. Festival manager Jim Kelley says Johnson is free to preach his message across the street.

The Minneapolis Park Board is backing the activist on free speech grounds, so the festival organziers are going to court Wednesday seeking an injuction to reverse that decision.



Stefano A
June 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Like you, Timothy, I can understand the courts’ rational that as a private (pseudo-religious) organization the Boy Scouts can be as discriminatory as they want, but I just can’t wrap my mind around the jury’s decision in this case.

How does the jury expect any anti-discrimination ordinance to work for anybody if all you have to do is claim “Freedom of Speech”?

I’m completely at an intellectual loss over this decision.

Lindoro Almaviva
June 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Can Philly appeal the decision?

John in the Bay Area
June 23rd, 2010 | LINK

The Boy Scouts/Sea Scouts lost an almost identical case in Berkeley CA over the lease of a city owned dock for the ship? (Evan v Berkeley)

That case was appealed to the US Supreme Court which declined to intervene in favor of the Boy Scouts/Sea Scouts.

Lindoro Almaviva
June 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Well, there is still the Circuit court of appeals in Boston. What surprises me is that the judge did not vacate the verdict of the jury, given how incredibly wrong it is.

Stefano A
June 23rd, 2010 | LINK

The Boy Scouts lost a similar case in San Diego as well.

The US Supreme Court decided against hearing a dispute over San Diego’s discounted leasing of city parkland to the Boy Scouts, allowing to stand a lower court’s decision to ban such agreements because they give preference to religious groups.

The lower court had struck down leases for 16 acres in Balboa Park and another half-acre on Fiesta Island that the city granted to the Scouts under a no-bid and, initially, nominal yearly fee. The judge said it violated the state’s constitutional ban on government preference for religious groups.

The Scouts had leased land in Balboa Park since 1957 for $1 per year. After the case was filed, the city negotiated a new lease, and the Scouts pay $2,500 in fees per year.

That’s why I just can’t wrap my head around what this Pennsylvania jury was thinking.

If the trial had been over whether or not the Boy Scouts could discriminate then I could understand it, but that issue had already been decided. So this case just makes no sense to me at all.

Richard Rush
June 23rd, 2010 | LINK

People should know that this Philadelphia case doesn’t just involve generic office space, the Scouts occupy a handsome free-standing building sitting on a prime piece of center-city real estate – rent free.

And now to top it all off, the Boy Scouts are also seeking a legal decision requiring the City to pay their legal fees of more than $700,000!

I was in disbelief when I first heard that this case was going to a jury trial. Obviously, I hope the city will pursue an appeal.

June 23rd, 2010 | LINK

As we can see in this latest example, trial by jury is a double-edged sword – and in our system, one does not need to prove even passing knowlege of law or justice to sit on a jury.

I would expect the city to appeal, and perhaps if it goes before a Circuit Court, the outcome will be more “sober”

June 23rd, 2010 | LINK

BSA is subsidized by the one of the richest organizations in the World: The Mormons. The Scouts could certainly pay the fair-market price for renting the building in Philadelphia. This is not a matter of Free Speech. It’s thumbing their noses at the gays.

Some people see only the clean-cut, kerchief, sash and three-fingered salute of a little innocent Scout with a flag waving in the background. When in actuality they are mocking the very symbol of our great nation by only being inclusive to “their kind”.

Maybe I need to find my sash of merit badges and return it to the local BSA office. No. Wait. I learned all about sex at Scout Camp. I got what I needed and I earned those merit badges!

And by the same logic that is being used in Minneapolis, then we gays should be able to have a float and a booth at the Utah Pioneer Day Parade in July. (Fat chance of that ever happening, though.)

Brian Westley
June 24th, 2010 | LINK

“What surprises me is that the judge did not vacate the verdict of the jury, given how incredibly wrong it is.”

The judge is a former scout. No conflict of interest there, right?

Just like when the Powells took their public school to court for allowing in-school recruiting, and the BSA paid for the school’s lawyers.

Priya Lynn
June 24th, 2010 | LINK

Stefano said “That’s why I just can’t wrap my head around what this Pennsylvania jury was thinking.”.

That’s easy – they were thinking they don’t care about the intricasies of the law, they like the boy scouts and they don’t like gays so the boy scouts are going to win.

John Doucette
June 24th, 2010 | LINK

I think it is about time that we started questioning the political and private beliefs of all public officials, especially when it comes to ruling on legal issues.

Fred in the UK
June 24th, 2010 | LINK

Following on from Richard Rush and Grant, why was the case a jury trial? As I understand it was the city council within its rights to force the Boy Scouts to pay market rent or change their policies? Or did such action infringe the rights of the Boy Scouts? To my mind such a decision requires a detailed understanding of the law i.e. it requires a judge to decide.

As a Brit I have a limited understanding of the American legal system, so I’d be very grateful if someone could explain this to me.

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