ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

The City of Philadelphia has started the process of evicting the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America from its headquarters. The Scouts have occupied the building virtually rent-free for 80 years. It's the latest episode in a long-running fight over the Boy Scout's policy of excluding gays.

From Philadelphia, Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: I'm standing outside the headquarters of the local Boy Scout's chapter known as the Cradle of Liberty Council. It's an elegant Beaux Arts building that the Scouts have been renting from the city for a dollar a year ever since they paid for the construction back in 1928. But that arrangement may be coming to an end.

M: We're not going to continue to subsidize their discriminatory policy by continuing to provide them with rent-free property for their use.

ROSE: Philadelphia's City Solicitor Shelley Smith says the city has a law against discrimination. And unless the local Scout's chapter complies with the law, it's going to have to start paying rent.

M: We've asked them to change their policy or pay us rent, agree to pay us rent, by signing a lease that we've sent them now three times, or to vacate the premises.

ROSE: The city gave the Scouts until May 31st to move out or start paying the city $200,000 a year in rent. But the Boy Scouts didn't leave. Instead, they sued the city in a federal court. Mark Chalude(ph) is on the Cradle of Liberty's executive committee.

M: They're asking us to change something we can't. We are like a franchise of the National Council of the Boy Scouts, you know, and we have to follow their policies.

ROSE: The Cradle of Liberty Council tried to adopt an anti-discrimination policy five years ago, but the national Scouts organization shot it down. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the Boy Scouts have the right to exclude anyone they want under the First Amendment. And the Scout's lawyer, Jason Gosselin, says Philadelphia is violating that right by demanding that the Scouts suddenly pay rent.

M: The fair-market rent that they claim that they're asking for is not fair-market rent. It's actually way-above-market rent. It's a penalty.

ROSE: Even if it was fair, Gosselin says the Scouts would still have a case because the city is essentially placing conditions on their First Amendment rights.

M: They're asking us to give up a First Amendment right of expressive association or forfeit a benefit that they've had for 80 years.

ROSE: But Philadelphia Solicitor Shelley Smith disagrees. She says the city is just upholding the law and the principle behind it.

M: This kind of discrimination is the kind of discrimination that people feel okay about because they feel like there's something immoral about the underlying issue, and it's a policy of the city not to tolerate any discrimination. So we don't care what kind it is. (Laughs) We have to defend the principle that we're not going to tolerate any discrimination.

ROSE: Which is why the city filed papers to formally begin evicting the Cradle of Liberty from its headquarters. If the council is forced to pay rent elsewhere, Mark Chalude says it won't have as much money to spend on programs for the 65,000 local kids who participate in scouting each year.

M: It's a shame. You would think that the administration has lots of other things they could focus its time and efforts on than kicking out the Boy Scouts, an organization who is doing good.

ROSE: The legal arguments could take months to play out. In the meantime, Chalude says the Boy Scouts aren't going anywhere.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

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