Richard Dawkins is Banned by the Wyndgate Country Club in Michigan

You know, if your country club is fortunate enough to host Richard Dawkins, you ought to offer a discount to his publishers. He’s going to draw a huge crowd, talk about the importance of science education, and get your company a lot of free (positive) publicity.

If you’re afraid he’s going to offend religious clients, then you shouldn’t offer him a contract in the first place.

I don’t know why that would even happen right now. His latest book, The Magic of Reality, isn’t a rant against religion. It’s an homage to science and it’s aimed at children — what a wonderful lesson to teach them! — and if religion gets mentioned, it’s because it’s a casualty of honest inquiry.

So you can guess what happened…

The Wyndgate Country Club in Rochester Hills, Michigan… terminated the agreement after the owner saw an October 5th interview with Dawkins on The O’Reilly Factor in which Dawkins discussed his new book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True.

In a phone call to CFI–Michigan Assistant Director Jennifer Beahan, The Wyndgate’s representative explained that the owner did not wish to associate with individuals such as Dawkins, or his philosophies.

Oh no! Not educating children and imparting scientific wisdom! We can’t have that in Michigan!

(And seriously? Based on his O’Reilly appearance? The only thing I learned from watching that is that Bill O’Reilly has no business ever teaching children anything.)

I looked at the club’s website. Nowhere on it does it say “Atheists aren’t welcome.”

It’s important to note that while Wyndgate is a privately-owned business, it is “open to the public for special events and occasions.” That means they can’t reject Jewish people who want to hold a wedding there, or an African-American family holding a reunion party … and they shouldn’t be rejecting an author’s book tour event because he happens to be an atheist.

You know exactly the uproar that would occur if the owner tried to ban a Christian author who was paying the full rental price for an event and already signed the contract. Every Christian group in the country would be calling for a boycott on the company, holding protests outside of there…

Watch what happens now. The same people will probably jump to the owner’s side, defending his irrational decision.

***Update***: There’s a petition calling for Wyndgate to apologize here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Rich Wilson

    I know I should be outraged, but this is so incredibly ludicrous that I can’t stop giggling long enough to get outraged.

    Maybe later.

    • Newavocation

      Really? What does it take to become outraged? Discrimination never starts out large and mean. It starts like this.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      It’s completely ridiculous, and certainly worthy of laughter. I think the issue is more that shit like this is (still) happening in the 21st century.

  • Trina

    Country clubs …

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The CFI article quotes the law:

    According to Title II of the Federal Civil Rights Law of 1964, “open to the public” means “all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”

    I hope that CFI pursues this further than just saying “shame on you” to the law-breaking owner. I hope they sue the bastard. 

    Enough is enough is enough! I am sick of this.  The gloves should come off permanently. Every single incident of illegal discrimination against atheists should be prosecuted within the limits of the law and the the limits of the plaintiffs’ resources. Not one civil rights offender should just walk away unscathed, if we can something about it. We’re never going to get out from under the boots of bigots unless we go after them 100% of the time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

      Man, righteous-fury Richard is badass.

      • Rieux

        Indeed. He’s right, too.

      • Drew M.

        He layeth the smacketh down.

    • Bob Becker

      Well, unless you want to argue that atheism is a religion  — and I don’t think you want to argue that. I certainly don’t. — I don’t see how the troglodyte who owns the Wyndgate violated Title II of the Civil Rights Act which prevents discrimination only on grounds of “race, color, religion, or national origin.”

      It’s the owner’s club. It’s a private institution.  He can rent it or refuse to rent it to whomever he pleases, except for the reasons covered by Title II none of which seem to apply to Mr. Dawkins.  

      We need to keep in mind, that behaving like a blithering idiot in the conduct of your private business is not, and should not be, illegal or subject [except under narrowly defined instances] to government sanction.   The owner is behaving stupidly.  He is not I think behaving illegally.

      • Rieux

        Pursuant to decades-old precedent from the United States Supreme Court, atheism is treated as a religion for the purposes for any and all laws barring discrimination based on religion.

        As it obviously should be, for cripes’ sake; you do realize that the position you’re advocating would legalize any and all discrimination against atheists that any American ever saw fit to practice?

        We need to keep in mind, that behaving like a blithering idiot in the conduct of your private business is not, and should not be, illegal or subject [except under narrowly defined instances] to government sanction.

        And pursuant to the plain text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and direct Supreme Court precedent, this is one of those “narrowly defined instances.” What silliness.

        He is not I think behaving illegally.

        Then I suggest you not quit your day job. Law is evidently not your thing.

      • Erp

        Lack of a religious belief is also protected.

        Note also the club had already been rented and the owner broke the contract.   CfI had presumably been upfront on the reason for renting the space, and, I doubt the contract allows either side to break the contract without penalty except by mutual agreement.    Even as a matter of straight contract law I suspect the club is in the wrong.

        • Bob Becker

          A breech of contract suit might well be a winner.  We’d have to know the terms of the contract, any opt out provisions, etc.  My comments above applied only to the notion that a civil rights suit against the club owner would necessarily be successful. 

          • Rieux

            It’s spelled “breach,” Bob.

            Is there any point at which your evident and broad ignorance regarding the subject matter will convince you to keep your armchair hypotheses (about, not incidentally, the legal acceptability of massive discrimination against atheists) to yourself?

            • Anonymous

              Is there anyway, Rieux, we could convince you to keep your abundantly annoying snarkiness to yourself?

              • Rieux

                You call that snarky? I was going for disdainful.

                And I don’t intend to apologize for communicating disdain toward commenters who show up on atheist blogs and airily hypothesize, based on zero experience in legal analysis and no actual understanding of the statutory and constitutional principles at issue, that this blatant and disgusting variety of discrimination against atheists is legal. It is not. And it does not help the status of atheists in the United States for ignorant wannabe-lawyers to take up residence in the comment sections of atheist blogs and there deny the existence of atheists’ civil rights.

                There are somewhat more important matters at issue here than petty whining about “snark.”

                • Anonymous

                  So that’s a no? 

                • Rieux

                  That’s a “there are actual important issues being discussed here, so you can take your childish trolling elsewhere.”

                • Anonymous

                  I’m not a troll, I read this blog regularly and  comment occasionally.   You’re being a jerk, and I thought I’d give some of it back to you.  If you can’t handle it, why don’t you take your childish behavior somewhere else. Hmmm?

                • Rieux

                  I didn’t say you were a troll. I said that what you were doing was childish trolling. And it was. My opprobrium of Becker’s comments, as I have pointed out, has been both factually accurate (and detailed) as well as well justified by the nature of what he has posted. Your complaints about “snarkiness,” meanwhile, have had no purpose but taunting. Regardless of what your personal status is, you are trolling.

                  Why you insist on doing this in the implied defense of a commenter who insists on denying the existence of atheists’ civil rights at law remains a mystery, and it is regrettable.

        • Bob Becker

          A breech of contract suit might well be a winner.  We’d have to know the terms of the contract, any opt out provisions, etc.  My comments above applied only to the notion that a civil rights suit against the club owner would necessarily be successful. 

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        The Supreme Court has already clarified that atheism does not need to be defined as a religion in order to be afforded the same First Amendment rights and protections. From Wikipedia, “Atheism and Religion”:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism_and_religion

        In the United States, atheism is protected under
        the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. In August 2005, in a case where a prison inmate was blocked by prison
        officials from creating an inmate group to study and discuss atheism,
        the court ruled this violated the inmate’s rights under the First
        Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. The United States Supreme Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed previous Supreme Court decision by ruling atheism be afforded equal protection with religions under the 1st amendment.

        Citations:

        Matt Dillahunty. “Atheism and the Law.”  Atheist Community of Austin. http://www.atheist-community.org/library/articles/read.php?id=742. Retrieved 20 July 2009.

        [James J. Kaufman, v. Gary R. McCaughtry, et al. United States Court of
        Appeals for the Seventh Circuit No. 04-1914 (19 August 2005). Retrieved
        26 July 2011 from http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F3/419/678/617423/

        • Bob Becker

          Granted, and rightly so in re: First Amendment protections.  Unbelief has to be as protected as belief.  

           But whether the claims made by some above regrading how all this applies to Title II of the Civil Rights Act is another matter.   I’m persuaded by several of those who’ve posted on this [and the links I've followed from their pointers] that atheism is in fact a protected class under the general heading of the “religion” exception and that any commercial operation like this country club that said “No atheists need apply to rent these facilities” would be in violation of the law.  But I also think Giffy has, again, a not trivial point when he argues that this does not mean any privately owned and operated  facility must rent to any atheist [or any believer for that matter] regardless of what his group may be advocating.  To put it as someone did above, if I owned a meeting space, I could not under the law state that no Christians would be welcome. But I should be able to say, without violating the law, that I would not rent to a specific group advocating policies I thought abhorrent and that might even be detrimental to my business — say the Christian Coalition For the Imprisonment of Sodomites.  My retaining that freedom not to rent to such a group necessarily implies that the Christian owner of a meeting space must also have the freedom to refuse to rent to, say the Free Abortions For All Coalition.   

          • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

            I think the owner has already hanged himself:

            In a phone call to CFI–Michigan Assistant Director Jennifer Beahan, The Wyndgate’s representative explained that the owner did not wish to associate with individuals such as Dawkins, or his philosophies.

            I don’t think your idea of differentiating between acceptable and unacceptable sub sets of a religious category would get the owner off the hook. If he’s going to try to argue that there are “good” atheists and “bad” atheists, and that he can tell the difference and has the right to discriminate on that, I think the judge would give him a judicial “Oh, give me a break!”

            But IANAL, and lawyers would be the ones to argue it out.

            • Anonymous

              I’m not so sure he’s hung himself. He said he doesn’t want to associate with individuals such as Dawkins (which is legal, even if it shows bad taste) or his philosophies. The problem is that “philosophy” is not a clear term. It certainly seems that by “philosophies” he means “atheists” but other interpretations are not out of the question and thus a judge might not consider it sufficient evidence. I’d bet some hard cash that his lawyer has called him and urgently told him that when the inevitable follow-up happens he is to say that by “philosophy” he means “opposition to religion” not atheism. He can’t discriminate against Dawkins for being an atheist, but he can for being an antitheist, and the phrase leaves which one he was actually talking about open to interpretation, or at least to hopeless muddling.

              But IANAL either, so we will see.

              • Rieux

                It certainly seems that by “philosophies” he means “atheists” but other interpretations are not out of the question….

                Sure, but none of those interpretations makes this legal. You can’t legally discriminate against people in public accommodations based on (ir)religious “philosophy,” either.

                I’d bet some hard cash that his lawyer has called him and urgently told him that when the inevitable follow-up happens he is to say that by “philosophy” he means “opposition to religion” not atheism.

                I’ll take that bet—because his lawyer undoubtedly recognizes that that post facto rationalization will do the club owner no good. “Opposition to religion” is every bit as protected by the Civil Rights Act as atheism is. You can’t deny PZ Myers a room in your hotel because of his “opposition to religion.” That’s a violation of federal law.

                The real problem with any CFI lawsuit is that damages would be somewhat hard to prove and probably pretty minor in amount regardless. Even if (when) they won the suit, they’d probably lose money on it. Might be worthwhile anyway—but CFI is not likely to be able to make the club pay through the nose for their bigotry.

                • Rich Wilson

                  Even if (when) they won the suit, they’d probably lose money on it.

                  Cheap publicity.  The owner just handed CFI a gigantic national billboard.

                • Rieux

                  Good point. Arguably it’s the courtroom version of a “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone” billboard.

                  How about “Banned in Detroit”? Or would the geographic (and perhaps implicit cultural) inaccuracy make Michiganders unhappy?

                • Dunruh

                  Yes it would.  Please do not confuse the elitist owner of a Country Club in Rochester, of all suburbs, with the majority of intelligent citizens of Metro Detroit.

          • Rieux

             But whether the claims made by some above regrading how all this applies to Title II of the Civil Rights Act is another matter.

            No, actually, it’s not. That interpretation (which no competent analyst has ever offered) of the Civil Rights Act is blatantly, directly, and obviously unconstitutional. Again, don’t quit your day job.

            But I also think Giffy has, again, a not trivial point when he argues that this does not mean any privately owned and operated  facility must rent toany atheist [or any believer for that matter] regardless of what his group may be advocating.

            Then I invite you to find, quote, and cite any legal authority anywhere that has ever held that to be an exception to the Civil Rights Act. You (as well as “Giffy,” who I note has never posted or even been mentioned on this thread) have not had much success pulling airy hypotheses about the law out of your ear.

            Religious discrimination is religious discrimination, regardless of how an atheophobic bigot attempts to invent post facto rationalizations for that discrimination, or how posters on atheist blogs bizarrely attempt to suggest (WTF?) post facto rationalizations that atheophobic bigots could invent for religious discrimination.

            • Rich Wilson

              One of the arguments made by the Pro Prop 8 side in CA was that churches will be forced to marry gay people.  Total and complete falsehood, but the evidence they gave was that a church hall in I think Massachusetts was required to rent their facilities to a lesbian couple.  What was important however was that the church had rented space to all kinds of people for all kinds of things.  If the church had maintained a ‘member only’ use of the facility, then they could reject whoever they like.  But by renting the space to almost anyone who asked, they gave up their right to discriminate.

              Which I could find the case, but too many similar things are coming up in google. 

              • Rieux

                It was New Jersey, not Massachusetts:
                http://nyti.ms/pa4gED

                There were some extra wrinkles in that case that don’t apply to the Dawkins/Michigan matter. First, the plaintiffs were a lesbian couple, and sexual orientation is not covered by Title II (though that’s obviously a gross injustice); as a result, the law at issue was New Jersey’s state anti-discrimination statute, not the federal Title II.

                Second, the defendants were a church, and they were making a First Amendment free-exercise argument. That’s a much more solid defense than the “I don’t like Dick to the Dawk to the Ph.D.’s ideas” thing that some folks are contemplating on this thread.

                Still, though, the plaintiffs won.

      • Anonymous

        Consider the legal implications should your interpretation be the law be correct. It would essentially mean that discrimination against atheists in all spheres I (except, I think, public office) would be perfectly legal. It would mean laws could be enacted banning us from being teachers, that you could be legally fired for being an atheist, that a hotel could kick an atheist family out.

        All of this is entirely illegal, thank goodness. For the purposes of the law, nonbelief is treated as one more religion. This does lead some of the more stupid of the theists to say that it’s proof “atheism is a religion”, but I’m frankly perfectly fine with giving them what they think is an argument in exchange for being legally protected from some of the nastier examples of religious bigotry.

    • Gus Snarp

      I agree, this is blatant discrimination and I hope there’s a lawsuit. Dawkins ought to be able to afford the lawyers.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    Should we have a fundraiser to send copies of The Magic of Reality to the staff at Wyndgate Country Club. At the very least, we should make sure the local library in Rochester Hills, Michigan carries a copy or two.
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

    Oh dear, open to the WASP public, but a private club when they feel like it.  

    Funny though, that owners would prefer negative publicity and be seen as bigots than “associate with individuals such as Dawkins, or his philosophies.”  Unless they assume that those fine, christian folk will come flocking to their door now.  Either that or they can play the victim when those viscous atheists withhold their business. 

    Discrimination against atheists isn’t on the increase though, it’s just being highlighted more, as it should.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    “I shalt not kill”

    Hey Bill, do you agree with the death penalty?
    Ohhh wait. Those are justified murders.

    Well… that clears that up.

  • Renshia

    Could it be a cover story, maybe its not the atheism at all but the godless parties and ramshackled rooms that Richard leaves in his wake. I hear he’s known to get pretty crazy with all the sinning he strives for.

  • T-Rex

    Who cares? The people that run country clubs are just political bodies throwing around what little power they have over the residents that reside there. I guess it makes them feel important or that they actually matter. So some fundy doesn’t like Dawkins or science. What else is new? Move along, nothing to see here.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      I care, and you should too. You will care when it’s you or someone important to you who is turned away, turned down or turned out for no reason other than your opinion.  You’ll hope that other people care enough to help you.

      Jews were turned away from the best hotels in New York City. African Americans were banned from using even the same water fountains as whites. If they had said “Who cares?” nothing would have changed, or it would have gotten worse.   Discrimination like this spreads and grows if we tacitly approve of it by just walking away.

      If you only put out most of a fire and walk away from the scattered embers, you’ll have the whole thing back very soon. 

      • Rieux

        I’m with Mick Wright upthread: Richard Wade in righteous-fury mode is a sight to see, in the most positive sense. So very well said!

  • Rich Wilson

    Must be a ‘values voter’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WveqvVebt1c

  • John D

    The
    local Detroit Atheist Meetup is organizing a protest of the Wyndgate
    Country Club after they cancelled an event featuring Richard Dawkins. 
    The reason for the cancellation was that they disagreed with his
    philosophy.  This is a violation of the Civil Rights act.

     

    Here is the link:  http://www.meetup.com/Detroit-Atheists/events/37046152/?a=ea1.2_lnm&rv=ea1.2

    And the details:

     

    Atheists not welcome at Wyndgate Country Club The Wyndgate
    Country Club in Rochester Hills, MI, cancels Center for Inquiry-Michigan
    event with biologist Richard Dawkins because the owner did not wish to
    associate with individuals such as Dawkins or his philosophies. Wyndgate
    equals Discriminate

    WHEN: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 TIME: 6:00 PM till about 7:30 PM

    WHERE: NW corner of Adams and Silverbell Rd., Rochester, MI

    Note: This is a strip mall including a Kroger Store, 4888 N.
    Adams Rd. Park in mall lot at far E side, then take the short foot path
    to the paved corner section. We will gather there. It is a very busy
    intersection.

    Please Bring: Banners/signs identifying your group and signs with
    protest messages of your choice. We will be demonstrating at the same
    time Richard Dawkins is speaking in Rochester. We need to draw up as
    many of us as possible not only to support Dawkins, but to defend our
    lawful and civil rights. The media has been notified.

  • Curtis

    According to Title II of the Federal Civil Rights Law of 1964, “open to the public” means “all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”So I guess the girl scouts can never have a public meeting.

    • Rieux

      Huh? How exactly do the Girl Scouts discriminate on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin?

      For that matter, what gives you the idea that the Girl Scouts are a public accommodation subject to Title II? Or that it makes any difference whether they “have a public meeting”?

      • Erp

        I think he forgot to note that sex isn’t included in Title II.  The Girl Scouts of the USA do not officially discriminate on any of the grounds  though the Boy Scouts of America, a separate organization, do discriminate on grounds of religion.  However the Boy Scouts were ruled by the Supreme Court to be a private organization and thus entitled to discriminate (though as a private organization that does openly discriminate on grounds of religion it is finding that privileged government support may also be cut off). 

      • Erp

        I think he forgot to note that sex isn’t included in Title II.  The Girl Scouts of the USA do not officially discriminate on any of the grounds  though the Boy Scouts of America, a separate organization, do discriminate on grounds of religion.  However the Boy Scouts were ruled by the Supreme Court to be a private organization and thus entitled to discriminate (though as a private organization that does openly discriminate on grounds of religion it is finding that privileged government support may also be cut off). 

  • RupertPupkin

    Should they have banned Dawkins?  No.   Should they be allowed to ban him? Yes. Private companies and organizations should be able to close their doors to whomever they want, whenever they want.   The freedom of association should always take precedence over “discrimination”, the definition of which is always changing.   This is not exactly the same as Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, but I think that precedent should be applicable in this case.  Private country clubs around the country refuse entrance to blacks, jews, women, etc. Is such discrimination offensive?  Sure, but in a free society, private clubs should be able to engage in it. 

  • Randall

    Here is the full list of long island country clubs that Richard Dawkins is banned. He brought this upon himself by being rude and offensive.

  • gerard sottto

     Speaking in front of a huge long island country club is a big scene then next, about ‘freedom of speech. I know we all have that but I guess that he should be aware (though he’s a good speaker) of what he is saying and where those contexts came from.


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