Margaret talking about the BSA

An article about Margaret and the BSA

Mayor Street: Tear Up that BSA Rent-free Agreement!
By Margaret Downey

Previously published in the May/June 2005 issue of
The Greater Philadelphia Story, the Freethought
Society of Greater Philadelphia (FSGP) bimonthly
newsletter

Question: What does an activist group do after conducting
an unsuccessful letter-writing campaign
requesting that the mayor of Philadelphia either start
charging the Boy Scouts of America rent or kick them
out of a city owned building at 22nd and Winter
Streets?

Answer: Hold a public demonstration, hand out
protest literature to passersby, and conduct media
interviews with any journalist who covers the event!
That is exactly what representatives from the
Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia (FSGP),
Scouting For All (S4A), and Delaware Valley
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
(DVAU) did on October 19, 2004. The demonstration
was held at Dilworth Plaza, located next to the
Philadelphia City Hall building.
A representative for S4A, Assistant Regional
Director Lori Martin, told journalists who attended the
demonstration that “BSA’s sweetheart deal with the
City of Philadelphia must end.”

Martin went on to say that there are many other nondiscriminatory
youth groups located in the
Philadelphia metropolitan area that better deserve the
use of a rent-free facility. Martin called for the immediate
collection of rent from the BSA or the immediate
eviction of the BSA from the city-owned building they
have occupied since 1928.

During an interview with a CNN journalist, DVAU
President Janice Rael explained the danger of using
public money to finance a private religious group such
as the BSA. Rael said, “If taxpayer funds and city wealth
are used to support any youth group, it should
not be a group whose policy is to discriminate against
minorities. The Boy Scouts of America should not
receive special benefits from any government branch
as long as it retains its biased policies.”

Margaret Downey, FSGP president, told reporters
that the City of Philadelphia’s 1982 Fair Practices
Ordinance requires that organizations that use cityowned
property must not practice discrimination of
any kind. Downey contends that the BSA should not
only begin paying full market value rent for the building
they occupy at 22nd and Winter Streets but that
the BSA should also pay back rent effective on the
date that the US Supreme Court recognized them as a
“private organization.”

That date is June 2000,” Downey stated. “The citizens
of Philadelphia have suffered mass transit fare
hikes, library hour cut-backs, cuts to city employee
benefits, and many other budgetary difficulties. It is
time for the BSA to pay their own way,” she added.
The demonstration was noticed by many passersby
and free literature was accepted by people who were
interested in knowing how they could stop the BSA
from taking advantage of taxpayer dollars—all the
while in violation of anti-discrimination laws as well
as policies and traditions firmly established in the City
of Philadelphia.

Downey followed up the demonstration by personally
visiting the office of Philadelphia City Council
President, the Honorable Anna C. Verna. The visit
proved fruitless. Verna was unconcerned and uninterested.
The next step is to make an attempt to speak about
the issue at a city council meeting. Downey is gathering
names of those who want to speak about this issue.
Please contact her as soon as possible if you are interested
in testifying in front of the Philadelphia City
Council.

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