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Church Bulletin Discounts


August 11, 2020

Is discrimination a right? And would a personal right to discriminate in terms of who we might associate with or happen to call a friend carry over to other areas life, such as business interactions?

The law attempts to distinguish between private groups that have exclusive membership criteria, and a "public accommodation" like a business that is "open to the public." In hiring employees, promoting and serving customers, laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation and -- in some cases -- sexual orientation usually apply.

But does a minor league baseball team have the right to discriminate on the possible basis of religious affiliation?

Carl Silverman, a Pennsylvania Atheist and First Amendment rights activists, says that the Hagerstown Suns baseball organization is doing just that by offering discounts to families which bring a copy of a local church bulletin to the stadium on specific nights. Some may argue that even if the practice is technically legal, it is morally wrong -- or just bad business. Others would claim that since the Hagerstown Suns team is a private organization - and that no one is forced or compelled to attend their games -- team management is within its rights in offering discounts to any groups it chooses to, even if it excludes others.

It's a complex question, to be sure. The Hagerstown Suns IS indeed "private," but they happen to play in Municipal Stadium, which was built with public funds. (The team reportedly is lobbying for a new stadium, also to be constructed at taxpayer expense. In fact, most major and even minor league athletic facilities are built with public money.) Does this alter the status of the Suns, and make them a "public accommodation" that may not discriminate?

What would we think if an athletic team decided to hole a "White night" discount? Or a discount program which applied only to gays -- or heterosexuals? (It may be interesting to contemplate how one would prove that you qualified for the discount... or how many people would actually show up!) Most Americans believe that it is wrong for a business to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity... but what about the question of religious belief?

Let us know what you think about this issue. Start by checking out the background on this story from AANEWS; and take our on-line poll and answer several questions. Then, post your considered remarks for others to read.

Team Ignores "Cease and Desist" Order

Imagine walking into a baseball stadium and being told that there's a discount for "Atheist Night." Or "Negro" Night. How about "Asian Night"?

That's the type of favoritism, though, that is being practiced by the Hagerstown Suns Baseball club despite protests following a "church bulletin" promotion, and a finding by the state Human Relations Commission that the practice is "probable cause" for a claim of religious discrimination.

Back to the first inning in this controversy.

In April of this year, Carl Silverman took his family in Pennsylvania to nearby Maryland to see the Class-A Hagerstown Suns play. The Suns are a minor league affiliation of the Toronto Blue Jays. On that particular day, however, the team was sponsoring a "church bulletin" promotion; any family of up to six with a newsletter from a local church could enter the park for just $6.00. Mr. Silverman informed the ticket clerk that he was not religious, and did not have a bulletin; he was informed that without the church bulletin, he and his family would have to pay full price.

"It got me thinking about the whole issue of the Civil Rights Act and the idea of a 'public accommodation.' I told the clerk that I considered this promotion to be a form of discrimination, and a violation of my rights," Silverman said. He added that the Suns stadium was constructed with public monies, and that the team was attempting to obtain state and local funding for a new facility as well. Indeed, the ball park, located off I-81, is known as "Municipal Stadium."

Silverman then complained to the Maryland Commission on Human Relations. The Suns management, however, denied that the "church bulletin" night was intended as any form of discriminatory practice. General Manager David Blenckstone told reporters, "We have never required fans to have a religious affiliation to receive our special Sunday discount. We only ask that they provide a Church bulletin." He added that the club would comply with any ruling from state authorities.

The MHRC urged the club to simply drop the promotion and settle the matter for a $500 fine, but the Suns management refused. A "cease and desist" order was issued on June 12, but ignored. On July 29, the Commission ruled that there existed "probable cause" for a valid charge of religious discrimination against the Hagerstown Suns.

In response to that finding, the team management has announced a "Faith Community Night" for the August 17 game. A portion of the gate receipts will be used to help the Hagerstown Suns defend themselves against a suit which Mr. Silverman has filed. A team statement declared, "The club's goal is to promote wholesome family values at affordable prices to all fans in the four-state marketing area."

The "Faith Community Night" is also sponsored by WJAL-TV based in nearby Chambersburg, Pa. That station is an affiliate of the WB (Warner Brothers) network and carries regular programming feeds. It describes itself as "Family TV 68," but is not quite a regular commercial television station. The WJAL-TV "Corporate Mission Statement" declares that among its goals is to "Lift the moral level of our communities... no-sex, no-violence, no-bad language" and to "Steadfastly serve God by providing the finest most honest (sic) and Scripturally correct Gospel-promoting programming possible..." That may be just so much rhetorical bluster, however. Although the station carries daily programming featuring evangelist John Hagee and doomsday guru Jack Van Impe, the rest of the television fare is programming which is strictly commercial. There's plenty of violence with "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol," "Soldier of Fortune, Inc." and "Cops," and more suggestive programming which many religious groups have objected to, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek."

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union says that the religion-based promotion violates public accommodations statutes, but Suns management issued a statement declaring "People are completely in favor not only of the promotion but of the fact that we've decided to go ahead and stick up for what we believe in."


This poll is now closed. You can still see the final results and read comments left by those who participated.

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Assisted Suicide
Paranoid Nation?
Boy Scout Discrimination
The Religious Freedom Amendment
The execution of Karla Faye Tucker.

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