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City panel votes to nix Boy Scouts-connected front group

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City panel votes to nix Boy Scouts-connected front group

by Nick Langewis

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A commission in the nation's second-largest city, by a unanimous vote, is forcing its fire department to drop part of its cadet program administered by a group it says is a front for the Boy Scouts of America to skirt anti-discrimination policy.

The programs in question were developed by Learning for Life, an affiliate of the Boy Scouts, and adopted by the Los Angeles Fire Department. The Learning for Life mission statement, as retrieved from their website, reads: "It is the mission of Learning for Life to enable young people to become responsible individuals by teaching positive character traits, career development, leadership, and life skills so they can make moral choices and achieve their full potential." While materials have also stated that participation is not restricted based on criteria such as race, religion and sexual orientation, the Fire Commission and Lambda Legal contend that the organization is at odds with city anti-discrimination policy due to its Boy Scouts ties.

The Boy Scouts of America, while considered a non-profit, private organization, has received public funds and favorable financial treatment on federal and local levels. The organization's right to discriminate as a private entity was upheld by the Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America et al v. Dale, filed by gay assistant scoutmaster James Dale, kicked out of the Scouts after the discovery of an interview he did during a gay-themed seminar. The ruling overturned the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling that Dale's rights were violated under the state's public accommodations law.

Such favor is not always garnered by the Boy Scouts, however. In December of 2007, the city of Philadelphia discontinued a deep rent discount on the city-owned Beaux Arts building, granted by the city in 1928, after the organization refused to change its position on accepting gays. Market rent for the building was estimated at about $200,000, but the Boy Scouts were paying the rate of $1 a month. The organization stands to be evicted, as an agreement to pay market value for use of the building was not reached.

"At the end of the day," said City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke, "you can not be in a city-owned facility being subsidized by the taxpayers and not have language in your lease that talks about nondiscrimination."

"Allowing the Boy Scouts to use this building rent free sends a message that the city approves of their policy," added Stacey Sobel, executive director of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania. "We are not looking to kick the Boy Scouts out. We just want them to play by the same rules as everyone else in the city."

While a February letter from Lambda Legal to Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo went unanswered, the Fire Commission has voted unanimously to instruct the fire department to end its relationship with Learning for Life by October 1, 2008.

"Learning for Life is a crystal-clear attempt by the Boy Scouts of America to avoid the anti-discrimination policies of cities like Los Angeles," Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Brian Chase said. "A quick look at how LFL is set up will show you that the offices, finances and even directors and personnel of the two groups are completely intertwined. We're pleased the fire commission has taken this step and we hope other city departments do as well."

Copyright ? 2007 Page One News Media, Inc.

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