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Activist groups, including Scouting for All, urge President Obama not to accept the honorary Presidency of the Boy Scouts of America until they stop discriminating.

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Boy Scouts and commissioners are still searching for a solution. Cheltenham officials will hold meetings about the local troops' free use of a township property.

By Cynthia J. McGroarty
Inquirer Suburban Staff

Six months after a controversy arose over whether local Boy Scout troops should be permitted to occupy Cheltenham Township property rent-free, officials say they are still working to resolve the matter.

The Board of Commissioners said last week it would hold private discussions with local scouts and other residents to decide whether to change its policy of allowing scout troops to occupy and operate a cabin on Tookany Creek Parkway and a house on Ashbourne Road.

"Rather than the commissioners make some kind of decision and let the chips fall where they may, we thought it would be worth having further conversations," Morton J. Simon Jr., president of the commissioners, said Tuesday at a public affairs committee meeting.

Simon said he expected officials to take action in the fall.

The commissioners had been virtually silent on the matter since emotions boiled over last winter in a series of rancorous meetings and a letter-writing campaign in local newspapers.

On one side were residents who said the township should not grant special privileges to a group with a national policy of barring gays and atheists. On the other side were local scouts, who said they do not discriminate and should not be punished for a policy that they did not establish.

Both sides said they were willing to try to work things out.

"We're talking to the township and trying to find a solution," said David Jennis, scoutmaster of Troop 22. He declined to comment further.

Melrose Park resident David Flaks, who is opposed to the scouts' free use of the properties, said he hoped for a resolution. But he did not think a "middle-of-the-road compromise" would work, he said.

"What I don't want to see is a 'don't ask-don't tell' policy," he said.

Flaks raised the issue in November when he asked commissioners to reconsider giving scouts free and exclusive access to the properties because of the Boy Scouts of America's policy barring bars gays and atheists.

After an April article in The Inquirer, the issue began showing up on national Web sites. Steven Cozza, vice president of an anti-discrimination scouting group called Scouting For All, said any policy that allows the Boy Scouts to discriminate is harmful.

"There is no gay or atheist scout or adult leader in any scout unit or local BSA [group] in Cheltenham who is safe," Cozza said.

Troops in Cheltenham have said they do not discriminate.

"Discrimination is not right as a whole," Troop 22 Assistant Scoutmaster Harry Schmid said. He added that the local scouts had their "hands tied" by the national policy.

He said the scouts had a history of public service to the community. "We give back... and we don't ask for anything," he said.

"Except for two free buildings," Flaks added.

Flaks and others have suggested the township write a nondiscrimination policy into all agreements to lease township property.

Three years ago in Philadelphia, the city threatened to evict the Cradle of Liberty Council, the scout's regional administrative organization, from city-owned property unless the council adopted nondiscrimination language.
The council adopted such language but reversed it and expelled a gay scout, saying the BSA had threatened to revoke its charter. Several nonprofit agencies withdrew funding. The council, though, still occupies its headquarters at 22d and Winter Streets.

Cheltenham officials see themselves in the middle of a prickly situation.

"We have a moral matter that I am not sure we can resolve," Commissioner Michael J. Swavola said.
He said nondiscrimination language was "a reasonable suggestion," but he said all parties might have to settle for simply becoming "more aware of each other's issues."

If a nondiscriminatory policy does not result from this summer's discussions, Flaks said, the township might find itself facing a legal challenge.



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