A Humanist View
Movie Theater Discriminates Against Atheists
If you asked a group of people what they associate with movie theaters, most probably wouldn't think of discrimination spearheaded by religious groups bent on silencing those who don't believe in a god. Unfortunately, the Angelika Film Center in Plano, Texas may be remembered for just that.
Recently, a nonreligious group in the North Texas area, the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, contracted with the theater to run a pre-film advertisement promoting a positive image of local atheist families. At first, it looked like a win-win situation: the coalition was told it could promote its message to local nonreligious families, and the theater would get the profits from the sale of advertising space.
Then local news stations reported on the coalition's future advertisement and Plano religious groups slammed the theater with phone calls and letters objecting to the ad. Sadly, the theater submitted to the religious groups' pressure and decided not to run the advertisement, leaving the Coalition of Reason group without a venue to reach out to atheists and other nonreligious Texans.
Perhaps the religious groups couldn't be blamed for seeking to halt the advertisement if it was offensive to their faith, but the ad was simply a positive affirmation of those of differing beliefs. Isn't seeking this kind of censorship morally wrong by our current ever evolving standards of morality? If atheists organized against a religious ad placed during the Super Bowl, wouldn't the faithful cry foul?
Making matters worse, the theater caved to their pressure and pulled the ad. Isn't this like a store putting up a sign in their window saying atheists aren't welcome? The prejudice in such actions is sadly all too clear.
Not only is this situation rife with immoral, un-American behavior by the religious groups and the theater, who are trying to limit the speech of groups that are nonreligious, but it's also likely a case of illegal discrimination by the Angelika Film Center. The theater had no problem running advertisements from local Christian churches and other religious groups in the past, even though some of their customers were nonreligious. By choosing to air religious ads and refusing to air atheist ads the Angelika Film Center has likely engaged in an unlawful act of discrimination.
William Burgess, coordinator of the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center, alludes to this double standard in a letter to the Angelika Film Center. "This discrimination violates Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by businesses against customers on the basis of their religious views when such businesses are places of public accommodation, such as movie theaters."
These religious groups should be ashamed of themselves, as should the Angelika Film Center. By restricting the speech of atheists in a place of public accommodation they go against a fundamental principle, which is that freedom of speech should be protected, regardless of whether or not we agree with what is being said.
Shouldn't atheists be able to advertise to people who might have similar beliefs through a public business? Or should atheists expect to be treated like second-class citizens in public places, undeserving of the same protections that religious Americans benefit from?
Discrimination in all forms is wrong. While backslides are common (see how Trayvon's case displays how slow progress can be), America has moved away from the days of race-based discrimination, and if we wish to continue on the path toward equality and justice we must also oppose discrimination against nontheists.
Roy Speckhardt is the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. He is also a board member of the organization providing Humanists leadership training, the Humanist Institute, and an advisory board member of Secular Student Alliance. Follow him at http://twitter.com/americnhumanist.