What a Boy Scout should be... Cheltenham is only one public body that is wrestling mightily
with the Boy Scouts' right to exclude gay and atheist youths.
April 16, 2006
By Cynthia J. McGroarty
Inquirer Suburban Staff
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 2000 that allowed the Boy Scouts of America to bar gays and atheists
has been producing legal and political fallout ever since.
In the Philadelphia area, the most recent controversy has been in Cheltenham, where an emotional debate over
the use of township property by local Boy Scout troops has raised questions about discrimination, public policy,
and the mission of scouting.
In February, the township Board of Commissioners began reviewing its policy regarding access to several township
properties by local Boy Scouts after a complaint from an Elkins Park resident in November.
David Flaks, 45, a psychologist and lawyer, asked the commissioners to reconsider allowing scouts to use township
land free of charge, and to open an annual Boy Scout tour of government buildings to a wider audience of children.
The Boy Scouts' national policy barring gays and atheists made him question the ethical propriety of the township's
arrangement with the scouts, Flaks said recently.
The commissioners agreed to broaden the tour and now are considering whether to change the policy that allows
the scouts free use of township property, Township Manager David Kraynik said.
Boy Scout Troop 22 owns and maintains the Drach Scout Cabin on township ground along Tookany Creek Parkway.
The scouts have used the property for decades.
Troop 321 uses an old house owned by the township on Ashbourne Road.
The scouts don't pay rent on either property, officials said. "Right now they are getting a privilege...
. My objection is that you take this group that discriminates and you give them a privilege," said Flaks.
Local Boy Scouts officials said they do not discriminate.
"I have never heard of an instance where anybody has been prohibited from joining our troop," said
John DiFerdinando, a member of the troop committee for Troop 22. Furthermore, the scouts said, they have provided
valuable public service to the township.
The township charges very low fees to other groups, such as ball teams that want to use public property, Kraynik
said. Officials are looking into which groups are using public property and how much they are being charged, he
They also are considering whether to charge a rental fee for the two properties in question based on a fair-market
Emotions flared around the issue in public meetings in December and January, and in a letter-writing campaign
in local newspapers.
"It's a touchy situation with everybody," said Charles McKeown, a member of the Board of Commissioners.
McKeown said he did not know whether commissioners would change the policy or when a decision would be made.
He said he did not see the issue as particularly pressing. .
Elkins Park resident Liz Solms disagreed: "I think it's a really important issue... . Prejudice is prejudice.
I don't want to be part of a community that condones prejudice against people because of their sexual orientation."
The legal and ethical propriety of institutional discrimination against gays has come up since the U.S. Supreme
Court decided that the Boy Scouts of America had a First Amendment right to bar gays and atheists.
In 2003, Philadelphia threatened to evict the Cradle of Liberty Council - the Boy Scouts of America's administrative
organization in the Philadelphia area - from city-owned property unless the council agreed to adopt nondiscrimination
The council did adopt such language but later reversed it and expelled a gay scout, causing the United Way of
Southeastern Pennsylvania to cut funding to the group.
In Cheltenham, Boy Scouts say they should be allowed to occupy the properties in question, having longstanding
permission to do so.
"Everyone has been comfortable with it for the last 60 years," Gary Wagner, a former member and assistant
leader of Troop 22, said about the scouts' arrangement with the township to maintain the Drach cabin.
Though troop bylaws do not contain nondiscrimination language, "we'd be thrilled to death if the national
organization would change its policy," Wagner said.
Flaks and others said the local troops should establish their own nondiscrimination policy.
"It's incumbent on our [troop] leaders to do the right thing, to say we have a policy we're going to undo,"
said Gail Greenberg of Melrose Park.
Flaks, himself a former scout, said he would like to see a policy that treats every community group consistently
when it comes to using township property and that requires them to adopt nondiscrimination language.
Except for McKeown, township officials have been slow to comment on making a change.
"The commissioners have taken great care to hear everyone who has an opinion on the issue," said Kraynik,
the township manager. "They'll take action if they feel it's warranted."
For more information on the Boy Scouts of America, visit www.scouting.org, or contact the local council at 215-988-9811
To learn more about the discrimination issue regarding the Boy Scouts of America, visit www.bsa-discrimination.org.