It is a violent summer in Philadelphia. Drug-related gang violence plagues the streets of the City of Brotherly Love. But one of the most outrageous attacks comes from the office of Philadelphia Mayor John Street. It is aimed at the Boy Scouts.
Nearly eight decades ago – 1928 – the city of Philadelphia granted the local Cradle of Liberty Boy Scouts Council property at the corner of 22nd and Winter Streets “in perpetuity.” Now, because the Boy Scouts believe as much in moral principle as they did in 1928, perpetuity is ended. Mayor Street’s solicitor Romulo Diaz threatens eviction from what has become the council’s headquarters building.
Street’s and Diaz’s list of options for the Scouts are few. First, end the policy of excluding homosexuals from positions of leadership, a policy which the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2000 the Scouts are within their rights to hold and which they will continue to hold by every indication. Second, pay a market rent in the upscale Philadelphia Art Museum district, which would require significant new council funds on top of the city government’s broken promise. Finally, leave the headquarters building.
This final option seems to be the likely outcome.
That’s not just bad policy. It is horrific.
Just what have the Boy Scouts done in Philadelphia that would justify eviction from their headquarters building? Well, they serve 40,000 youth in the city, many of whom would be left to gang violence and drugs without Scouting. They contribute hundreds of thousands of volunteer project hours to the city each year. They teach boys to become responsible citizens in the community.
Now, as far as Mayor Street is concerned, anything else the Boy Scouts do is irrelevant to his dealings with the organization. The city of Philadelphia should maintain a relationship with the Boy Scouts if for no other reason than that the Scouts are a big organization that can enhance the quality of life within the city in ways the city government itself could never do.
It isn’t as though Street has never heard of public-private partnerships (partnerships between the city government and private nonprofit organizations ranging from Kiwanis and Rotary to the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church). The mayor sat in the honor seat beside first lady Laura Bush at the 2001 State of the Union Address, he the personification of city faith-based initiatives. Philadelphia was the launchpoint for the Amachi Mentoring program, which enlists members of churches and synagogues around the nation as in-school volunteers. Further, around 40 percent of welfare-to-work programs in Philadelphia are based out of churches or other faith-based institutions.
Despite these successes and the proven work of the Boy Scouts in Philadelphia, Mayor Street is resolute. It is as if to say, give in or give up.
The Boy Scouts surely will not give in, though the temptations have been sore in the past few years. In 2003, the Philadelphia Cradle of Liberty Council temporarily said that it was accepting homosexuals until the national Boy Scouts, which happened to be holding its convention in Philadelphia at that time, said otherwise and threatened to revoke the Cradle of Liberty charter.
Since then, the Cradle of Liberty Council, the third largest Boy Scouts council in the nation, has suffered financially. The United Way pulled funding. Pew Charitable Trusts turned away dollars.
And now this wretched invitation to pack their backpacks and duffle bags from the city of Philadelphia.
They will not – they cannot – pack their honor. The Scout Oath says, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
That is a statement of self-government, I think the best there is. And it is one of the most hated set of words in America today. Those words do stand for something.
Recognizing this, the Philadelphia Daily News compared the Boy Scouts to the Taliban a few years ago. “What’s the difference between the Taliban and the Boy Scouts?” the newspaper asked, suggesting that there was very little difference.
But the difference is stark.
We might bring it back to Philadelphia to make it simple. What’s the difference between a cracked-up gun-wielding teenage thug on the streets of Philadelphia, and a Boy Scout learning to live and lead in his inner city troop? That’s easy.
“Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent.”
Of such is the defeat of the Taliban, and the Philly murderer class, and the other great evils of our time. E-mail Mayor Street at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him to uphold his city’s promise to the Boy Scouts “in perpetuity.”
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