I‘m sure many of you have heard about the lawsuit that was filed by CFI – Michigan (full disclosure: I’m on the advisory board) and the national CFI office against a country club that breached a contract they had signed to hold a dinner with Richard Dawkins at their facility. CFI put out an official statement about it on Tuesday:
A Michigan country club that cancelled an event by the Center for Inquiry (CFI), allegedly because of the speaker’s and attendees’ atheism, has agreed to a settlement in the case brought against it, marking perhaps the first time federal and state civil rights statutes have been successfully invoked by nonbelievers in a public accommodations lawsuit.
In April of last year, the Center for Inquiry, an organization advocating for science, reason, and secular values, brought suit against the Wyndgate Country Club of Rochester Hills, Michigan for violation of both the federal and state civil rights laws, as well as breach of contract, after it cancelled an October, 2011 CFI-Michigan event featuring famous atheist Richard Dawkins. The club tried to justify breaking its contract by stating that “the owner does not wish to associate with certain individuals and philosophies.” The club’s representative specifically cited a concern over Dawkins’ appearance on The O’Reilly Factor a few days before, in which Dawkins’ atheism was the chief topic.“We’re very pleased with the outcome of this case, which we regard as an unqualified vindication of the rights of nonbelievers,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We are confident it will send a strong message that as much as this country now rejects discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, and religion, so must we reject just as strongly discrimination against those with no religion.”
The details of the settlement agreement are confidential, as is common in such circumstances. And while I would much rather have had a court ruling that declared that the anti-discrimination laws applied to discrimination against atheists, refusing the settlement and going forward with the case did carry the opposite risk of getting a ruling that went the other way. At the very least, this allows us to point to this as a precedent where someone who discriminated against atheists had to pay a financial price for doing so. And that’s a good thing.