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
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).