Are These Cases of Anti-Atheist Discrimination or Private Businesses Doing What They Want?

Earlier this month, the Dallas–Fort Worth Coalition of Reason started an advertising campaign called “Our Families Are Great Without Religion.”

Their plan was to have the following ad play on movie theater screens before the films began:

After getting rejected by one theater that had a “no religious advertising” policy, the Angelika Film Center in Plano said they would be happy to run the ad.

Until Christians started complaining…

(Apparently seeing happy, diverse, non-religious families destroys whatever narrative their pastors try to sell them about us.)

The Angelika people reneged on their contract. Even though churches could run ads, the atheists could not.

Now, a lawyer from the Appignani Humanist Legal Center of the American Humanist Association has written the theater a letter (PDF) threatening a lawsuit:

Please note that under the [Civil Rights Act of 1964] it is irrelevant whether your decision to refuse to do business with the Coalition was based on personal or organization animus to the atheist views of the Coalition and its proposed advertising or whether it was purely a business decision intended to avoid controversy…

If you would like to avoid any potential litigation related to this matter, please contact me immediately and indicate that you will reverse your illegal decision and lease pre-show advertising space on the screens in your theater to the Coalition on the same terms as offered to religious advertisers, as the Act requires

If the theater doesn’t respond by Tuesday, they may be seeing a lawsuit.

Incidentally, one local lawyer suggests the theater might not be doing anything wrong:

[Attorney Stewart] Thomas questions whether the movie theater is really violating the law.

He says, “it seems to me the public accommodation is to attend the theater and watch the movie everyone has the right to watch the movie. I’m not sure the theater has to sell to anyone that wants to buy advertising.”

Meanwhile, The Center for Inquiry – Michigan is suing the Wyndgate Country Club in Rochester Hills because they also reneged on their contract to host Richard Dawkins for a lecture and book signing last fall.

The owner decided not to host the event after seeing Dawkins interviews on The O’Reilly Factor and finding out (wait for it…) that Dawkins was an atheist.

The complaint calls for unspecified damages based on breach of contract, and that the club be stopped from discriminating against others on religious grounds. The group is asking for a jury trial.

The suit follows a cancelled 100 seat, $95 per ticket dinner on Oct. 12 with noted atheist Richard Dawkins. The event was relocated to the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester.

CFI Michigan claims in the lawsuit that club employees acting under the direction of owner Larry Winget called them to cancel the event because Winget “does not wish to associate with certain individuals or philosophies.”

One argument that could be made is that this is a private facility and the owner ought to have the right to do as he pleases. So if he wants to put up a “No Blacks Allowed” sign, he has that right. This lawsuit, however, focuses on the breach of contract aspect of it (as well as the discrimination). He made a promise. Money was exchanged. Then he went back on it.

Both lawsuits are worth pursuing. At the very least, the ensuing media attention shines light on the idea that atheists are discriminated against (whether it turns out to be for legal reasons or not).

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • westley

    I don’t agree with that lawyer who argues that the theater is only a public accommodation for viewing and not advertising; the theater is clearly conducting two kinds of business with the public.  If I own a hotel plus a restaurant in that hotel, it’s not like I can ignore laws governing restaurants because it’s a secondary part of my business.

  • DG

    I guess it depends.  If the theater can run pro-religious signs, or does do so, then that’s fine to ask about atheist signs.  I’m not sure a private company should have to run one or another.  I would think if a theater was owned, say, by an atheist who wants the atheist ad but not the religious one, that’s fine.  As long as down the street, the theater run by the religious person who has religious ads but doesn’t want atheist ads is fine as well.  I would say consistency with defaulting to it being a free country where private business is concerned.

    • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

       I’m not sure a private company should have to run one or another.

      They should if they signed a contract to that effect.

    • TallySkeptic

       No, it wouldn’t be fine for an atheist owner or manager to run atheist ads and refuse to run religious ads.  It would be both unethical and illegal.  Once the owner or manager opens up ads to either group, fairness requires that he not discriminate.

      • Jim Bob Guthrie

        The law isn’t fair…

  • newavocation

    Maybe the baptists or catholics can just buy out the theater, then they would also have a say in what movies they show and their popcorn makers and ushers can be youth ministers so they can keep out the atheist riffraff.

    • hoverFrog

      And not pay taxes.

      • LifeInTraffic

        I know you’re joking, but that is *exactly* what happens in Lynchburg, VA. Liberty University owns many business, including one of the local theaters, on which it makes piles of cash but pays no taxes. (And yes, it definitely, clearly chooses not to run certain movies. )

        • Dubliner

          Really? It’s a wonder non religious businesses don’t object. They are at a severe financial disadvantage since they can’t compete on a level playing field when their competitor is exempt from taxes.

          • LifeInTraffic

            I am pretty sure that whether they objected or not wouldn’t be an issue. It is, as far as I know, legal and that’s pretty much all that matters. LU has incredible power here.  One example (and I’ve never, ever heard of another college/Uni doing this–I also have no idea how it’s legal) is that it’s students register LU as their “permanent address,” which gives them the right to vote in local elections. This has gotten all kinds of crap passed here that would almost certainly never have flown otherwise. There has been objection to that, but it’s held for whatever reason. 

      • newavocation

        Then they should also receive no public or government services either. No police or fire protection and stay off of our taxpayer paved streets. 

    • Stev84

       That’s exactly what Mormons do in areas where they have the numbers to pull it off

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Why is CFI asking for a jury trial? A bench trial would seem to be more to their benefit in this sort of situation. 

    • http://travelingtxn.blogspot.com/ Traveling Txn

      Im guessing they’re counting on a jury composed primarily of the kind of Christian that pressured them into rejecting the adds.

    • Gary Whittenberger

       I agree with you on that point Joshua.  I think it would have been wise to go with the bench trial.  That would seem to provide a better chance of success.

  • Parse

    Yeah, no.  This is an clear-cut case of discrimination.  To rule otherwise would effectively defang any anti-discrimination laws -  so long as the company doesn’t write down their policy, any other case of discrimination could be passed off as ‘businesses doing what they please.’ 

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    This violation of contract stuff  seems to be common in TX.  I believe Tim Minchin had his piano rental cancelled at the last minute there, causing a mad scramble to find another.  

    Some years ago here in VA, a gent with a port-a-potty business tried to pull the plug on a contract with a Solstice festival.  Didn’t get to the lawsuit phase.

    Stuff like this is why actual libertarianism would turn the US into a hell-hole.  Imagine trying to drive from D.C. to California with half the businesses demanding to see proof of your religious affiliation before selling you food, gas, or lodging.

    • Dbaker13

      “Stuff like this is why libertarianism would turn the US into a hellhole.”

      Thank you. I’ve been saying this for the past two years.

    • Daniel Schealler

      Is that entirely fair?

      I’m a bit shaky on the specifics of libertarianism, and obviously any political or ideological movement is going to have some nutters.

      However, most self-described libertarians with which I am familiar do acknowledge that there is a minimal role for government in the sense that the government should enact preventative measures on invasion from without and criminal activity from within.

      I can’t think of any libertarians with which I am familiar such that they would want to dissolve the enforcement of willingly-entered-into contracts.

      Again: I’m shaky on the details, so I could easily be wrong on this.

      Can you think of some examples that are fairly representative of libertarian views?

      • LeftSidePositive

        You mean like Rand Paul getting on The Rachel Maddow Show and publicly arguing that the Civil Rights Act isn’t necessary because “the market” will just take care of discrimination all by itself?? That enough people will somehow notice the discrimination and boycott the business effectively enough that no government needs to get involved or protect the interests of those who have no place to eat, dress, or take shelter?

        Oh, and another thing–libertarians are also notorious for grossly overestimating how “willingly-entered-into” contracts are. To wit, most will argue against the need for discrimination protection or safety standards in the workplace because, well, the worker entered into the contract so it’s their problem.  Completely ignoring, of course, that if unemployment is at 15% in your region and you have rent to pay and kids to feed, how truly “willing” are you to enter into that contract??  Or, moreover, without state-enforced standards, the other people making up that 15% unemployment figure will be so desperate as to accept even worse standards and further undercut our protagonist’s bargaining power in this “willingly-entered-into” contract.

        • Daniel Schealler

          Is Rand Paul a fair representation of libertarians?

          The libertarians with which I am personally familiar have more in common with the views of Michael Shermer than Rand Paul.

          Again: I’m coming at this from a position of ignorance. I’m thinking of a handful of people I have met and worked with in New Zealand that self-describe as libertarian.

          The situation may be very, very different in the US.

          • LeftSidePositive

            Yes, he most definitely is.  He was elected to the US Senate on an explicitly libertarian platform and is the son of the most notable libertarian in the US–perpetually failing presidential candidate (and member of the US House of Representatives) Ron Paul.

            Moreover, every Paul supporter (Ron or Rand) I have ever seen commenting online specifically states that governmental involvement in the market is fundamentally unnecessary.  Frankly, everyone I’ve ever seen identify as a libertarian holds such views, at least until they’ve been backed into a corner by liberals pointing out the problems of rampant discrimination and fraud, and then they just get really, really fluffy with how they label themselves…

            • Stev84

              He is probably representative of modern US libertarianism. But all he really is is an anarcho capitalist. He is as insane as all other wingnuts. Just in different ways.

              Classical libertarianism has different schools that can be somewhat more nuanced. They aren’t all like him.

              • LeftSidePositive

                Well if they vote for him, then to me, as an affected citizen, functionally they are the same thing.  And, when you have an ostensibly American commenter saying “Stuff like this is why actual libertarianism would turn the US into a hell-hole,” I think it’s pretty fair to communicate on the assumption we’re talking about the type of libertarianism that is actually trying to insert itself into US policy.

                And are you sure these not-all-like-that libertarians are actually more nuanced, or is what your describing the fluffiness about labels I previously identified?

                • Stev84

                  Libertarianism dates back to the 19th century and even earlier. It really shouldn’t be surprising that there are many forms of it. Anarchism is can be one part of it, but it doesn’t have to be that extreme.

                  It should also be noted that libertarianism was originally left-wing, not right. That alone shows the widely different ideas about its goals and how to achieve them.

                • LeftSidePositive

                  So what the hell is your POINT?

                  Are you trying to claim we’re wrong to criticize the libertarianism as practiced in the US because other people have other definitions? Are we supposed to ignore the fact that people calling themselves libertarian vote for this particularly odious strain and that these policies affect our lives and our political discourse no matter how much history one wants to expound on the internet? Are we supposed to devote time and space in our conversations to muddying terms as they are already appropriately used to describe how people self-identify to satisfy sophistry and to bury our concerns about actual political fallout?

                • Stev84

                  I’m saying that it’s silly to a say that Ron Paul and other American libertarians are representative of the whole movement and idea.

                  If you want to use “libertarianism” as a short-hand when you criticize Ron Paul that’s perfectly fine. But you were told that someone knew different kinds of libertarians in his country and then started to argue about that. He used NZ as example and you brought up American politics. That’s obviously not going anywhere

                • LeftSidePositive

                  Which he said in response to a discussion of how libertarianism was affecting AMERICAN politics and the implications of its adherents and the problem of this particular philosophy as regards discrimination.

                  Pardon me if I’m not going to go in for a distracting chorus of “but we’re not all like that!!!” which is used far too often to shift the goalposts away from important discussions of the failures of this political philosophy, especially when this discussion is ABOUT the particulars of that philosophy. Dismissing the people who GET ELECTED to represent an ideology as “just the nutters” is one of the worst No True Scotsmen I’ve seen in quite a while.Moreover, you’ve completely ignored the point that this particular strand of libertarianism–WHICH IS WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT IN THE FIRST PLACE–is what people are voting on and what is influencing policy.  I honestly don’t give a shit how much history you want to obsess over–the fact remains that this definition is the one that is operative in the context that we’re talking about, and that the problem of rampant discrimination MATTERS and you shouldn’t distract the issue by bringing in a lot of tosh about different definitions that aren’t relevant.

                  So,Daniel was educated about what Nazani was talking about and how this is a problem in the US, and he seems to have let it go…why can’t you?

                • brianmacker

                  Your game is bigoted. There is a wide range of socialists, from the Amish, Social Democrats, volunteerist communist Hutterites, to the Eugenists, Marxists, Stalinists, National Socialists, and Facists. All are socialist ideologies. I don’t think you’d appreciated being called a Nazi because you agreed with them on having a public school system.

                  Besides, ignoramus that you are, you’ve got Rand’s position wrong. Your comment has him being opposed to the civil rights act in toto, but that is not the case. You’ve demonized him, and used chicken little claims of catastrophe if his policies were enacted, totally ignoring or ignorant of the very real market forces that work against discrimination.

                  You are also ignorant of history. Parts of the Civil Rights Act and surrounding policies were opposed on the grounds that they set up bad incentives that would harm the black (and white community) in the long run. Those precise effects have come to pass, and it was obvious to anyone who understood.

                • LeftSidePositive

                  Really, holding people accountable for the positions of those they choose to elect is “bigoted” now?! Criticizing those libertarians who ACTUALLY ADVOCATE AND VOTE for these odious policies on the merits of these policies is the same as lumping all possible uses of a label together?  Careful–it’s beginning to sound like you are throwing around accusations of bigotry to shut down legitimate debate.

                  Rand Paul explicitly stated on The Rachel Maddow Show that businesses should be free to discriminate on the basis of race and that the government should not interfere with such intentional discrimination. No amount of spinning on your part is going to change that.

                  To what harms of the Civil Rights Act are you even referring?  It looks to me like you’re trying to shift blame away from your discomfort with protections for minorities…

                • Coyotenose

                   I know Republicans who don’t support laws that discriminate against women and gays. But the ones who do are Representative of the Whole Movement.

                  Rand Paul was discussed before New Zealand. Your arguments are nonsense.

                • brianmacker

                  … And so because only the Socialist Hitler, or the Socialist Mussolini were the ones that gained political power that therefore makes them most representative of Socialists? Considering that perhaps one or two percent of voters self identify as libertarian don’t you think the more intelligent interpretation would be that there are a lot of non-libertarians voting these two into office? Math tells us that given an assumption of 1% libertarian voters that a minimum of 98% of the voters these guys get do not come from libertarians, and the larger margin they win by the closer that approaches 99%.

                  These kinds of deductions are easy and obvious for me so I immediately see through nonsense. Your reasoning is deeply flawed.

                • brianmacker

                  Ever libertarian in their district could vote against them and it would hardly effect their chances of winning. Ron Paul, for example, has won his seat with around 70-80% of the vote. So exactly how do you know how the various libertarians vote on the matter.

                  There really is only one presidential candidate the anti-war crowd can vote for, and that would be Ron Paul. Odious as you might find their compromise.

              • Coyotenose

                 Beware No True Scotsman and The Courtier’s Reply there.

                • Stev84

                  I didn’t say that that Paul isn’t a libertarian. Just that there are different kinds of them. And that doesn’t mean that he can’t be criticized on his own merits. It’s just that like with much of American politics these days, he takes it to ridiculous extremes

                • brianmacker

                  See my comment on socialists. Hitler self identified as one.

            • brianmacker

              See Daniel this is where LeftSidePositive lies to you. The libertarians and their platform pretty consistently get about 1% of the vote. The two Rands have decidedly unlibertarian positions on many issues and that is how they get into office. Were they consistently libertarian they’d get about the same 1% the rest of the libertarian candidates get.

              • LeftSidePositive

                Okay, WHAT “decidedly unlibertarian positions”??  (And, how do these positions magically make their libertarian nonsense okay?!)

                Remember what I said about libertarians suddenly getting really fluffy about labels?  Here, we have a great case in point!!

          • brianmacker

            Well don’t turn to LeftSidePositive for your education. He’s an ill informed bigot on this subject. I’ll give you an example of this. do you know who Herbert Spencer is and what social Darwinism is?

            • LeftSidePositive

              For one thing, SHE.  Don’t go off on how “bigoted” you think someone is and then express a presumption of default masculine normativity.

              And I sincerely hope you’re bringing up social Darwinism as a COUNTEREXAMPLE of appropriate economic philosophies, because it is one of the most reprehensible ideologies ever devised in the economic realm and seeks to provide cover for an extraordinary degree of suffering, unfairness, and lack of access to the education and worker protections that confer social mobility, and is likely second only to Marxism in its dismal failure and its callous disregard for human well-being.

            • Daniel Schealler

              Note: I’m stating my view on what Social Darwinism and Libertarianism are.

              I’m trying to be concise, so as much as I can I’m stripping out the “I think” and “In my opinion” and “My understanding is” style of hedging. I’m also oversimplifying to an extreme degree – both of the systems in question and of my opinions thereof.

              But rest assured that I know that I’m coming at this from a position of ignorance. So if I seem strong or over-sure in a given sentence, that’s only for the purpose of brevity.  Everything that follows this paragraph is submitted tentatively and with the humble desire for correction wherever needed.

              I think I understand Social Darwinism. My opinion there is a dim one: A false analogy is forced between reproductive fitness under natural selection with an extreme preferential treatment of those that meet an arbitrary standard of ‘fitness’ that suits the ideological needs of the Social Darwinist in question. The naturalistic fallacy is then deployed to justify that preferential treatment as inherently good, because it (allegedly) mirrors nature.

              As for Herbert Spencer? Not really, no. 

              The name rings a bell, so I’ve at the very least heard it before. But that’s it.

              If I were to oversimplify my view of Libertarianism similarly to how I have done for Social Darwinism, it would be something like: Liberty of the individual is the highest ideal. Forming and maintaining collective organizations (government) is only justifiable if the purpose and consequence serves to preserve the liberty of the individual against violation. As such the scope of government action should be limited to preventing the encroachment of the liberty of individuals, be it from without (military protection against invasion) or between citizens (police action against infringement of property rights, etc).

              I have some things about this (oversimiplified) libertarianism that I like, and some other things that I don’t like.

              I like the idea that government should be as small as possible, and that taxes should be as low as possible, for government to perform the most minimal level of social functions in order to ensure the smooth functioning of society.

              However, I have three main objections: Firstly, that libertarianism doesn’t provide effective means for compensating those harmed by sufficiently distanced externalised costs (although it should be granted that democratic capitalism arguably hasn’t been doing a very good job of that either in recent decades). Secondly, libertarianism imposes a very very high opportunity cost due to the tragedy of the commons preventing the benefits to efficiency and capacity that come from successful large-scale projects that cannot be rationed (or would have their usefulness greatly impaired if rationed), and this is too often ignored when libertarians speculate as to the alleged economic gains of libertarianism. Thirdly, I think that there is an underlying required assumption of libertarianism that in the absence of government intervention, power relationships between individuals (and corporations) will be close to symmetrical – something that I consider to be transparently false.

          • ron

            libertarianism and communism are opposite sides of the same coin.  both are “great” in theory but when faced with how the real world works, including both human behavior and the environment, they fail miserably and cause much human suffering.  

            libertarians in the US hate the “big bully” federal government because it prevents local bullies and corporations from running roughshod.  they love local, bullies because they can get in on that action.

        • brianmacker

          You are ignorant of the actual evidence used and arguments made. It’s not as clear cut as you think, and the main mechanism is not boycotts. There has in fact been a history of free markets working against discrimination, and fighting government imposition of discrimination. For example southern movie theaters fought against laws forcing segregation on the basis of costs involved. I disagree that relying purely on the free market is sufficient and many libertarians recognize that fact, so you are judging a broader group by a minority. You probably misunderstand Rand’s position also.

          Our current 15% unemployed,pmnt rate is itself the result of stupid government policy. Free markets need a legal system that prevents fraud and the current system is based on a fraudulent monetary system. Things will be getting worse from here because the government is taking all the incorrect steps to resolve the issue. Instead of eliminating the fraudulent practice that causes the business cycle, Fractional Reserve Banking, it has doubled down on the fraud with bank bailouts and monetary stimulus.

          • LeftSidePositive

            The fact that there is “a history” of free markets working against discrimination does not in ANY way mean that free markets consistently and comprehensively work against discrimination.

            A particular business finding a particular externally-imposed policy harmful to its bottom line says absolutely nothing about the protections for individuals who are victimized by policies intentionally chosen by places of business.

            If you don’t think the free market is sufficient, on what basis do you call yourself a libertarian?

            I “probably” misunderstand Rand Paul’s position? What on earth do you mean by “probably”??  Either make a coherent argument or slink back into the ideological rabbit-holes from whence you came.

            While I will grant you that much government policy is stupid, it does not then follow that ALL government policy must necessarily be stupid. Indeed, in eras before governmental economic intervention, periods of mass unemployment were the norm, not the exception. Moreover, this discussion is about consumer and worker protections, not bailouts. Do you seriously think that without any worker or consumer protections unemployment would simply disappear?  Or, rather, would opportunities for employment be anything other than unlivable?  The Gilded Age called…they want their shirtwaists back…

            • Demonhype

               Don’t forget the fact that our 15% unemployment has a lot to do with our de-regulation of the “free” market by the government, leaving big business to do as it likes regardless of the impact to the environment, economy, or public safety and health (and don’t get me started on human rights).  De-regulating corporations leads to an inevitable corporate feudal state, because the idea that the richest people and corporations have anything like “the good of the people” in mind is a magical unicorn-infested fantasy-land.  They care only about the bottom line in the short term, which has proven everywhere it has been tried to be poison to a healthy society–especially where the health of the little people are concerned.  I’d rather a stronger federal government that regulates those who have the greatest impact the most, for all its flaws, than a corporate dictatorship, which has zero accountability, zero transparency, and allows the average person zero recourse to justice and zero human rights.   I’m not keen on being some rich bastard’s corporate livestock–and if you think that’s not how they see you, you are blind to reality.

              • brianmacker

                Actually that deregulation story is a lie, but whatever makes you feel good.

                • LeftSidePositive

                  Wow, I’m like sooo totally just about to be completely swayed by the coherency and intellectual rigor of that argument from assertion…

                  …oh wait…no actually I’m not.

                • brianmacker

                  Who cares? You came out of the starting blocks spewing lies and ignorance.

                • LeftSidePositive

                  If you’re going to claim I lied, and if you’re going to claim I’m ignorant, you’d damn well better be able to back it up with evidence, or you will expose yourself for the ideologically-driven, intellectually-barren troll that you are.

              • brianmacker

                Here’s a hint for you. European countries, Canada, China, Australia, etc did not all “deregulate” and yet they all are now in, or have experienced a housing bubble, which if not yet popped soon will. They all share certain characteristics and it isn’t “deregulation”. Those characteristics are a fiat monetary system, fractional reserve banking, and a loose monetary policy (like Japan did too except they are ahead in this game), along with governmental loan subsidies, and deficit spending. The business cycle has happened many times in the past and has always had asset bubbles which were driven by loose moneitary policy using such monetary mischief.

                Even leftist Idiots like Paul Krugman admit such when their guard is down, as when he on several occasions advocated that Greenspan follow loose monetary policy with the specific goal of causing a housing bubble. At the time Libertaians and various other right wing groups were warning against Greenspan’s actions it was Krugman arguing that Greenspan was not loose enough.

            • brianmacker

              I don’t call myself a libertarian, and your comment is totally confused, and ignorant.

              • LeftSidePositive

                Ooooh, now there’s a very trenchant and thoughtful response!!!

                ProTip: anyone can just throw around words like “confused” and “ignorant,” but failing to actually make an argument or address anything a person wrote just makes you look like you’re grasping at straws.

                • brianmacker

                  Anyone can avoid the specific part where I quoted you and showed that you were wrong. If I had more time I would fisk you, because most of what you spew is ignorant nonsense.

                  So how about it. You going to admit to typing that ignorant quote, or did someone else slip that in? The US government has regulated the economy in various intrusive ways from the very beginning just like all governments.

                  You are ignorant and because you are ignorant you are not qualified to judge your own ignorance. You don’t know what you don’t know.

                • LeftSidePositive

                  Wait a minute–when I responded all that comment said was (and I quote in its entirety, from my disqus notification):

                  “I don’t call myself a libertarian, and your comment is totally confused, and ignorant.”

                  YOU EDITED YOURSELF to make it seem like you had a cogent argument before the fact, which makes you a disgusting boldfaced liar.

                  As to the argument that you added after the fact to your post to try to pretend that you were offering more rational discourse than you actually were, I think any reasonable person with even a passing knowledge of American economic history can easily differentiate the degree of economic interventionism between the laissez-faire 19th century and its riotous boom-and-bust business cycle, versus the hitherto-unprecedented degree of economic involvement and regulation, especially on the Federal level, that characterized the reforms of the New Deal and ushered in the economic stability and prosperity of much of the mid-20th century (and recognize the troublesome return of the boom-and-bust business cycles with deregulation in the late 20th and early 21st centuries).  Furthermore, any reasonable person would consider “before government economic intervention” to be a more than adequate shorthand to distinguish these two epochs for the purposes of a discussion on an internet forum.

                • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

                  Confirming as uninvolved reader that the comment was edited after the initial statement in the way that LeftSide describes. 

    • brianmacker

      So you believe the counterfactual that before the Civil Rights Act that half of businessmen were asking for religious affiliation before selling stuff to make a profit? I guess you are also uninformed about the fact that throughout history it has mostly been governments that have enforced such rules with private citizens working against them (because of profit incentives).

      • LeftSidePositive

        Haven’t you ever seen “No Jews Allowed” signs in restaurants and hotels in the 1950s?

        Moreover, you are rather pathetically setting up a false dichotomy between government discrimination and corporate discrimination–BOTH can go hand in hand (not the least because the people who perpetuate discrimination in their own businesses are the same ones who vote in representatives who enforce legal discrimination), and the presence of government discrimination in the past does not make private discrimination okay.  Furthermore, the absence of official government discrimination does not in any way mean that people necessarily have equal access to services because private discrimination can have huge practical ramifications for people’s lives.

        Also, who said “half of businessmen”?  From whence did that standard originate?  Most people would be at a very severe disadvantage in their community if only 10% or 5% of the service providers refused to do business with them.  Or is that just acceptable collateral damage to you?

        Remind me again about how Woolworth’s lunchcounters were staunch defenders of civil rights and their profit incentives to serve Black patrons? Oh, yeah, they WEREN’T…rather, black people had to put their bodies on the line and be PUBLICLY BEATEN UP before these store policies–NOT, I might emphasize to your libertarian fantasyland, state policies–were finally reversed.

    • Jim Bob Guthrie

      It may be possible to bring a contract action here.  But if the theater refunded the money to the organization, it will be difficult to show damages.  And damages are an essential element of a contract lawsuit.   The only potential damages they could show are reliance damages (that they went and paid for an advertising agency to make the ads in reliance on the Angelikas promise to run them).  In that situation, I think they would have a decent shot. 

      • Rwlawoffice

        Fellow Christian lawyer here.  I think that most likely the  relief requested would be for specific performance and attorneys’ fees. I would imagine however, that the contract allowed for a termination provision that allowed for termination under certain reasons which may prohibit a breach of contract claim.    

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    it seems to me the public accommodation is to attend the theater and watch the movie everyone has the right to watch the movie. I’m not sure the theater has to sell to anyone that wants to buy advertising.

    So nobody would have a problem with them rejecting any ad that had a black person in it.

  • Daniel Schealler

    ‘Discrimination’ just means basing preference or avoidance on category rather than individual merit.

    Discrimination in and of itself isn’t a problem unless the category in question is protected – such as gender or ethnicity.

    Consider: A bartender in New Zealand is required to discriminate against intoxicated people by refusing service. The merits of that particular individual are irrelevant.

    The question is whether or not the traits being discriminated are protected or not… And I’m pretty damn sure that religious faith or lack thereof is protected in this case.

    • LeftSidePositive

      No, the merits of that particular individual are quite relevant–ze is intoxicated, as an individual and in the instance of the interaction, not that ze belongs to a perpetual category of intoxicated persons.

      Simply, “intoxication” is a STATE, not a trait.

      • Daniel Schealler

        Simply, “intoxication” is a STATE, not a trait.

        You need to define STATE and TRAIT.

        There’s sufficient overlap in some common usages of those terms that I’m justifiably uncertain as to precisely what you intended to connote in that particular usage.

        • LeftSidePositive

          No, actually, there really isn’t:

          state |stāt|
          noun
          1 the particular condition that someone or something is in at a specific time : the state of the company’s finances | we’re worried about her state of mind.

          trait |trāt|
          noun
          a distinguishing quality or characteristic, typically one belonging to a person : he was a letter-of-the-law man, a common trait among coaches.
          • a genetically determined characteristic.

          • Daniel Schealler

            Thanks for the definitions.

          • Gary Whittenberger

             Actually, there are some gray areas here.  Race would be a trait; you can’t change it.  Intoxication level would be a state; it changes over short periods of time.  However, religious belief kind of falls in the middle.  It can and does change; it is not permanent like race.

            Nevertheless, in the current case “religious-nonreligious” is a protected category.

      • Lucy

        Perhaps a better example would be a bartender not serving those under drinking age. Age is a trait, and age-discrimination is a legitimate form of discrimination in some circumstances, but not in others. 

        • LeftSidePositive

          I think that falls under the compelling-public-interest standard, and it is also demonstrable that a person under a given age is not legally or, in most cases, mentally capable to handle certain decisions, which is a different kettle of fish than when traits are discriminated against without basis in fact for a claim of compelling public interest.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I think we have a case of unsettled law here. Courts do advance certain rights over property rights in some cases, particularly where the property involved is quasi-public (restaurants, theaters, etc). It’s generally illegal for the owner of a private venue that is open to the public to discriminate based on certain protected classes, or to allow smoking, or to fail to provide handicapped access. There has certainly been a trend in the last few decades towards recognizing a public good at the expense of some property rights (for businesses, anyway). The situation with advertising is only somewhat tested (some cases with broadcasting over the public airwaves). So the only way to advance this is to take the matter to the courts. That’s how precedent is created, one way or the other.

  • Reginald Selkirk

     

    Are These Cases of Anti-Atheist Discrimination or Private Businesses Doing What They Want?

    False dichotomy. See Title II of the civil Rights Acts of 1964, on public accommodation.

    • Gary Whittenberger

       Good point.  It is not “either-or;” it is “both.”  These are cases of anti-atheist discrimination and private businesses doing what they want.  But what they want to do is unethical and illegal.

  • Keulan

    Both these places, the theater and the country club, signed contracts only to renege on them because they were with atheists. Sounds like clear cases of discrimination to me.

  • Rwlawoffice

    If the theater cancelled the ad without a terminations clause, then they breached the contract. That has nothing to do with discrimination.  I am curious however how an atheist group that argues that is not a religion, can claim religious discrimination. To my knowledge, and i may be mistaken, the religious discrimination protection applies to religions, not a lack of belief.   if atheism is not a religion or a belief system, then this was not a religious ad and thus, there is no religious discrimination.

    • Curt Cameron

      The Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to discrimination on religious grounds, and it’s settled law that businesses are not allowed to discriminate due to lack of religion.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Well we have 
      Torcaso v Watkins, which is admittedly ‘secular humanism’ not ‘atheism’.  And we have Kaufman v. McCaughtry (7th circuit court of appeals) which a bunch of online self-proclaimed experts say declares atheism a religion.

      Matt Dillahunty’s opinions: http://www.atheist-community.org/library/articles/read.php?id=742 

      Granted, both of those are constitutional issues, not civil rights.

      But the civil rights act says

      TITLE II–INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AGAINST DISCRIMINATION IN PLACES OF PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION 
      SEC. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and 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.

      ‘ground of … religion’.  Given how the courts have ruled in constitutional cases, wouldn’t you think it fair to say that discrimination based on lack of religion is discrimination on the ‘ground of religion’?  The reason the ad is being rejected (the group claims, they may have to prove it) is religiously based.To use the oft repeated ‘collector’ analogy, I think it would be silly to say “You can’t discriminate against stamp collectors, or coin collectors, but you can discriminate against people who don’t collect things”. 

      • Rwlawoffice

         Thank you Rich.  I will look at those cases. 

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZQJQB3SSNRSJZSQ3KABB7MQLJI rx7ward

       You are mistaken. “We have already indicated that atheism may be considered, in this specialized sense, a religion.” -Kaufman v. Mccaughtry, et al.,United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. – 419 F.3d 678
      http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F3/419/678/617423/

      • Rwlawoffice

         Thank you.  I find it interesting that the court in Kaufman says that atheism is a religion for purposes of the First Amendment because atheists take a position on God. If they do that then it is a claim that they adhere to and can get protection under the First Amendment.  It appears that if Kaufman had said he did not take a position on God then it would not be considered a religious stance. 

        So it appears to me that this case be used in discussions with atheists who claim that atheism is not a religion or that they are not taking a position on God.

        • Gary Whittenberger

           I don’t think atheism is a religion, but it takes a position on a religious question — “Does God exist?” or “Do gods exist?”

          The courts might consider atheism a religion for legal purposes even though it is not a religion from a philosophical standpoint.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Well it is used in discussions with atheists, usually to say “Hah! You’re another religion!” which is kind of a schoolyard taunt.  It’s  a silly attempt to win argument points, but it doesn’t change anything about an atheist’s position.  Calling an atheist ‘religious’ doesn’t in and of itself mean anything other than the courts under some circumstances use the word ‘religion’ when trying to describe atheist rights and limitations.

          I’m also not surprised that courts full of theists have trouble with the nuances of agnostic/atheist etc.  We can’t even figure it out.  Aside from all the definitions, my opinion is that lack of religion should have equal protection to any particular religion, and from what I’ve read, it seems the courts in general agree with that.  That is only my opinion, and we know what that’s worth on the internets :-)

          I agree there doesn’t seem to be much case law regarding the Civil Rights act and lack of religion.  But based on 1st amendment cases, I’m confident the courts will extent the protection to non-faiths.  Assuming of course that they can prove that their ad was rejected because it professed non-faith.

          This and the Dawkins vs. Country Club case, we’ll find out.  It’s not going to go away.

    • Gary Whittenberger

       It is religious discrimination because the atheist takes a particular position on the existence of God — that God definitely or probably does not exist or that there is no good evidence, reasons, or arguments to believe that God exists.  A business should not be able to exclude this position while enabling the opposite.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    As I wrote before, this one is somewhat tougher because the theaters are hoping to keep people entertained, and right after the airing of the ad.  For a billboard company, their sole business is selling ad space; there is no legitimate excuse to turn it down.  For a bus company/public transportation authority, it’s ever-so-slightly dicier because they could conceivably be worried that people won’t get on the bus (and some weirdos have done exactly that, FWIW).  For a theater, though, the possibility of people walking out an demanding a refund, or complaining that their family night was “ruined” (by the existence of people who are different! Scandalous!) is very real, and a potentially credible threat to their revenue.  The “right” thing to do is still to air the ads, I think, but I understand that it’s a tougher call for them than for some other businesses.

    As to the legal issue, that’s tricky too.  Certainly if an Christian and an atheist each wanted to run an ad for their bakery, let’s say, they can’t turn down one and accept the other, because that clearly runs afoul of existing anti-discrimination laws.  It’s less clear the extent to which the message itself is protected from discrimination.  Certainly private companies have broad discretion to decide which types of messages they allow, but it’s not clear if that applies in a case like this…
    It will be interesting to see how it plays out, in any case.

    • Gary Whittenberger

       Theatres have a choice from the outset — 1) They can decline to show any ads which are religious or atheist, or 2) They can agree to show ads which are religious or atheist.  What they cannot do is to agree to show ads which are religious and decline to show ads which are atheist, or vice versa.  Part of the lawsuit should force the theatre to make this choice, after paying damages to the plaintiffs.

      • Jim Bob Guthrie

         What law says that they can’t?  Could the theater decide not to display a religious ad from a Christian organization that said “All Atheists are Going to Burn in Hell” or “Watching this movie is a sin and you will burn in Hell.”  Wouldn’t the theater be free to not associate with ideas they find offensive?  Or would they be discriminating on the basis of religion?  

        This case is interesting because where do your free speech rights begin and my free speech rights (not to associate with your speech) begin?   I don’t think this case is clear cut.  But I will be interested to see where it goes.

  • Curt Cameron

    The strange thing to me is that the Angelika in Plano is the theater that you’d LEAST expect there to be a problem. I’ve been there a bunch of times, and it’s very upscale for a movie theater – almost all adults, the kind of place that serves beer and wine, and the movies they show are the more artistic variety. You’re not going to be seeing Titanic or the Three Stooges at the Angelika. It’s the kind of place that can feature a movie like The Kids Are All Right about a lesbian couple – they advertised the hell out of that one when it was coming.

    I read that Angelika’s reaction was due to the backlash from the Observer article instead of from their actual customers. Their customers would be fine with the ad.

  • b33bl3br0x

    The country club rents out a portion of its facilities to the general public.  As such, that part of their facilities are places of public accommodation.  If they’re going to rent out the facility to non-members then they can’t discriminate among non-members.

    • Jim Bob Guthrie

      I don’t think it has to do with members vs. non-members.  As a place of public accommodation, I cannot deny access to certain protected classes. But I don’t necessarily have to give you a platform for speech. 

  • Jim Bob Guthrie

    Full disclosure: I’m a lawyer, a Christian and a Dallasite.   The humanist organization should absolutely be allowed to show their advertisement.  It embarrasses me that they have been treated this way. 

    But (you knew that word was coming), I don’t have much hope that they are going to win.  First, Bill Burgess appears to be very inexperienced.  If I am the Angelika’s general counsel, I would scoff at Burgess’ stylistic faux paus and not be intimidated by his very poor choice in case law.  (A 1960s Mississippi district court case dealing with racial segregation in movie theaters that has no binding effect on Texas law).   

    There are a couple cases from the Supreme Court that might go the Humanists’ way.  And there a few that pretty strongly go against the Humanists.  If Burgess would have cited these cases and argued that US Supreme Court precedent held his way, then he would have a much better chance of persuading the theater or a court that he should win. 

    First, he must prove that under Title II, atheism is a religion.  This is already true for the employment discrimination context.  But it hasn’t been defined in the public accommodation context of Title II. Next, he must show that speech equals public accommodation.   There is Supreme Court precedent that goes both ways on this.  A private place can be forced to allow speech, and disclaim any approval of the speech.  But at the same time, a private place is free to refuse to associate with ideas that it does not agree with.  Hurley v. Irish-American Gay and Lesbian, 515 U.S. 557 (1995).

    On the other hand, in Turner Broadcasting v FCC, the Supreme Court held that a cable
    operator had to accommodate channels that it disagreed with because viewers would not believe that a cable operator’s hosting of a channel
    was an endorsement of the speech on that channel. Turner, 512 US 622
    (1995). The Humanists could argue that the movie theater is a conduit
    for speech, much like a cable operator. Also, the US Supreme Court held
    that it did not violate the free speech rights of a shopping mall to be
    required to allow people to distribute handbills on their property when
    there was a state law that permitted it.  Pruneyard Shopping v. Robbins,
    447 US 74 (1980).  The shopping mall could also have signs that said
    they did not approve of the messages in those signs.  So in this
    situation, the movie theater could have signs that say they don’t
    approve of the speech. I think these are the Humanists’ best cases. 

    But I have little faith that Burgess is going to get this done based on the letter he wrote.  I hope he puts more research into his application for injunctive relief.   I think he should win.  But he has a steep uphill battle to win.  

  • http://twitter.com/JMRooker JM Rooker

    “So if he wants to put up a “No Blacks Allowed” sign, he has that right”

    Unless I’m mistaken, he can put up a sign like that if he wants but is breaking the law if he tries to enforce it.

    As for this question of “the law vs a business owner’s private property,” if you want to do business with the public on your private property, you follow the public’s laws.

    • Jim Bob Guthrie

      Very true.  And what we have here is not a situation where atheists are barred from admittance or segregated from the rest of the audience.  Instead, we have a situation where a humanist organization is not being allowed to publish their advertisement on the movie screen of the theater.  This appears to be more of a free speech issue than a public accommodation issue. 


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