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Nov 21 2011

Anti-Atheist Discrimination at Skepticon

Skepticon brought a lot of business this weekend to Springfield, MO. Farmer’s Gastropub probably made a couple grand on it and the local lunch places did bangup business too. But one business right next to the theater where the event was held apparently didn’t want to get any atheist cooties:

Which is almost certainly illegal, since it is discrimination based on religion. But if someone sued, the owners would be all over wingnut media land as examples of horrible persecution and how those evil atheists want to take away their religious freedom. Until some business refuses to serve Christians — and then those people will be all over wingnut media land as examples of horrible persecution and how those evil atheists want to take away their religious freedom. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Update: The owner of the store has now apologized on their website:

To the Public: I sincerely apologize for the posting of the note in the window. It was an impulse reaction to an event that I witnessed and it was only up for a few minutes before I came to my senses and realized it shouldn’t have been up at all.

So you know, nobody was turned away and everyone was given the same high level of service they have come to expect. Out of the hundreds of event attendees that I served on Friday and Saturday, all of them were extremely polite and enjoyed their time in my restaurant. The event that greatly offended me was conducted by one man and I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.

Even small business owners make mistakes, and I sincerely apologize to those whom I offended.

All the Best,

Andy

He doesn’t say what alleged “event” took place to make him so angry but it really doesn’t matter. Again, imagine if the situation was reversed and a business put up a sign declaring that no Christians are welcomed and then said, “Well it was only one Christian who did it, I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.” The religious right would still be screaming about this terrible anti-Christian bigotry and preparing lawsuits. Apology not accepted. And when I come back to Skepticon next year, there isn’t a prayer — see what I did there? — of me going to this place. I’ll spend my money at a business owned by someone who doesn’t engage in discrimination at the drop of a dime.

48 comments

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  1. 1
    eric

    PZ’s blog says the owner published an apology and did, in fact, serve the con-goers.

    Still, I think this is like the gun safety course guy in Texas: a valuable example of how many believers would act, if the law allowed them to do so.

  2. 2
    eric

    D’oh! Posted before scrolling down. I see you already put in the info about the apology. My apologies. :)

    Incidentally, that last sentence is incomplete. You’ll spend your money a…?

    a[t] the local bar?
    a[t] the poker table?
    a[nother] way?
    a dollar at a time at the local club?

    Better stop there. This could be too fun.

  3. 3
    Trebuchet

    Off topic, but this is the second post this morning that seems to have gotten clipped off in the middle of a word, the other being the Fischer award to Rick Perry.

  4. 4
    tacitus

    I don’t know. It sounded like a sincere apology to me, and frankly, I don’t give two hoots what sort of fuss the religious right would have made if an atheist had done exactly the same thing only to Christians, including the apology. They are not us.

    What matters is that he appears to have quickly realized that he was in error, and took the necessary steps to rectify the problem and apologize for it.

    This is precisely the type of thing we should be encouraged to see — a Christian taking the time to reconsider their bigoted behavior and admitting their mistake. If they all did that, then America would be a much better place for it.

    Could his apology be insincere? Might he only be worried about what the adverse publicity was doing do his bottom line? Sure, but those are exactly the same sort of suspicions religious conservatives throw up all the time in similar situations.

    Thus, in the absence of any other information about the inner thought processes of this person, I am perfectly happy to take his apology at face value.

    If Skepticon returned to the site next year, then what better way to confound the conservative Christian’s image of the bitter, hateful atheists than to drop by the store and tell him that they appreciated his change of heart? Sure, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but really, what does continuing to bash this guy after his apology achieve?

  5. 5
    cameronmulder

    I also think that this person made a mistake and then did the right thing. I wouldn’t hold it against them.

  6. 6
    Worldtraveller

    Actually tacitus, the apology, while seemingly sincere, does not jive with his later actions. To wit:

    1) The alleged incident for which no details or evidence have been presented. I suspect, if there really was any kind of incident, if Andy, the owner of Gelato Mio in Springfield, Missouri, actually told the truth about it, the reaction may have been even worse.

    2) The fact that he initially started deleting negative comments from the company FB page, while leaving supporting comments; then when he couldn’t even keep doing that, just deleted the FB page altogether.

    These actions make me think he was covering his ass with that apology, and it was not meant with any real sincerity. I could be wrong, but it would be very difficult for the owner to show evidence at this point that would convince me.

  7. 7
    grumpyoldfart

    In November 2010, he was organizing a toy drive for Christmas with a “full-size Hum-Vee equipped with an artillery gun that may have once been used in a fight to defend our freedom.” That’s the Christmas spirit right there isn’t it? Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men – and some weapons of war!
    http://www.gelatomiousa.com/Portals/2/pdf/Press%20Release%20-%20Toys%20for%20Tots%2011-29-10.doc.pdf

  8. 8
    TCC

    I wish I were surprised at that, but I’m not. I have family in Springfield and acquaintances who’ve gone to school there (one to Evangel), and I get the distinct impression that there are plenty of people like that in the area. I’m just surprised that this owner even risked losing business of any kind in this economic climate.

    I do also agree with a few commenters above: take the moral high ground and resist the urge to respond like the fundies would. Personally, I wouldn’t go there, but that’s mostly because I have no interest in gelato.

  9. 9
    Gretchen

    I expect Ed did not follow the Twitter hashtag #gelatogate (yep, seriously) in which Skepticon attendees not only shared pictures and complained about the sign but made a coordinated effort to drive down the rating of Gelato Mio on Google reviews, Yelp, Urban Spoon, and so on, and then gloated about their success. PZ Myers commented that this demonstrated the “clout” of atheists. To me it demonstrates that self-proclaimed skeptics can be just as guilty of self-righteous groupthink as anyone else: “He doesn’t want to sell us ice cream! How dare he?! CRUSH HIM!”

    What Andy the gelato store owner did was childish, ill-advised, and illegal. Certainly. But he’s one guy in charge of a family shop who found himself offended by someone a conference attendee did, and in a fit of pique posted a sign forbidding his business to all of them. Regardless of the reasoning for his apology (which appeared within an hour or two of his posting the sign, as far as I can tell), it’s good that he made it. Conference attendees could’ve shown themselves to be better people by accepting that and moving on.

    Last year the hullabaloo was about the fact that Skepticon took place in a venue next door to a gun show. In a conference center in Missouri…who could have predicted? I wanted to remind people that there’s no inherent contradiction between being a skeptic and owning a firearm. Would have attended both events, but the gun show’s entrance fee was a bit pricey.

  10. 10
    tacitus

    These actions make me think he was covering his ass with that apology, and it was not meant with any real sincerity. I could be wrong, but it would be very difficult for the owner to show evidence at this point that would convince me.

    As I said, he could indeed be insincere, but would it be better to be mistakenly magnanimous or mistakenly unforgiving in this case?

    On balance, as the Christian Cynic says, I think there is more to be gained from taking the high ground here.

    As for his predilection for Humvees and militaristic allusions, well, I can’t say I’m surprised–this is America after all. I’ve met plenty of non-religious conservatives who think the same way. But I did note that at least the charity he supports is a secular one, and not affiliated with any religious organization I can see.

    There are far more egregious and unapologetic Christian bigots out there that are deserving of our ire.

  11. 11
    gesres

    I applaud those who advocate giving the owner the benefit of the doubt. Even if he weren’t sincere, a change in behavior often begets a change in attitude, so we should be encourage that.

  12. 12
    Gvlgeologist, FCD

    I would be a lot happier and more likely to think that this was sincere if he followed,

    “The event that greatly offended me was conducted by one man and I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”

    with something like,

    “It was unfair and prejudicial of me to characterize all atheists based on the actions of one individual.”

    That way he would have acknowledged that the reason that he was wrong was prejudice, not that he was affecting his business.

  13. 13
    BrianX

    Gretchen:

    So let me get this straight: if people are offended by some company’s discriminatory policies that are directed toward them, they aren’t allowed to take economic action against the offender? I’m sorry, I thought we all had the right to speak our mind. I didn’t realize that right was only restricted to snooty concern trolls.

  14. 14
    Chris from Europe

    @BrianX
    Huh? Were does Gretchen deny you your rights? Criticism isn’t denial of rights. You sound like a wingnut.

  15. 15
    Gretchen

    Hi BrianX,

    Please point to the portion of my comment in which I made any proclamations about people being allowed or not allowed to do anything. Also, your description of me as a troll of any kind is hilarious. Thanks for the laugh.

  16. 16
    BrianX

    Um… the accusation of “self-righteous groupthink” implies what I said. Bit of reductio ad not-all-that-absurdum on my part. The fact remains that whether you intended it or not (and it seems pretty obvious that you did), you’re saying that there’s something wrong with forcing people to face consequences for their intolerance.

  17. 17
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    I expect Ed did not follow the Twitter hashtag #gelatogate (yep, seriously) in which Skepticon attendees not only shared pictures and complained about the sign but made a coordinated effort to drive down the rating of Gelato Mio on Google reviews, Yelp, Urban Spoon, and so on, and then gloated about their success. PZ Myers commented that this demonstrated the “clout” of atheists. To me it demonstrates that self-proclaimed skeptics can be just as guilty of self-righteous groupthink as anyone else: “He doesn’t want to sell us ice cream! How dare he?! CRUSH HIM!”

    Step 1: Protect bigots from any consequences for their bigoted actions.
    Step 2:
    Step 3:

    (Seriously, what ARE we even hoping to ACCOMPLISH – never mind how?)

  18. 18
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Gretchen, Brian is using “aren’t allowed to,” somewhat sloppily but with plenty of precedent both for the usage and for the actual meaning being understood, in the sense of “aren’t justified in.”

    Having seen you commenting elsewhere, I’m 90% certain you’re smart enough that you knew that….

  19. 19
    Chris from Europe

    Step 1: Protect bigots from any consequences for their bigoted actions.

    No, I don’t think this is what Gretchen is saying. Avoiding him and shining a light on him could be enough. Gretchen seems to be against going further. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

  20. 20
    starskeptic

    Gretchen – Don’t feed the troll – he’s already made your point for you…

  21. 21
    Gretchen

    It’s not an all or nothing thing, now is it? The consequences that you make someone face when he does something to piss you off can be appropriate or inappropriate. I’m saying that I think the some of the response to this was inappropriate. Petty. Reactionary. Whatever you want to call it. I think the consequence of saying on Twitter and in blogs “Hey, take a look at what this guy did!” is enough. I think that when a lot of people like Skepticon attendees get together, relatively minor outrages like this can get blown way out of proportion– hence the “self-righteous groupthink” comment.

    It makes one wonder if there were any interesting talks going on this year, if this kind of nonsense is what captures everyone’s attention. It’s one guy who owns a gelato shop in Springfield, Missouri. Aren’t there are better heads on which to bring down the wrath of secular/skeptical fury than that?

  22. 22
    democommie

    I’m just glad that there no teh GAY people there. Teh GAY and atheists in the same place would cause very bad satanic mojo to happen.

  23. 23
    neonsequitur

    Azkyroth says:

    (Seriously, what ARE we even hoping to ACCOMPLISH – never mind how?)

    That was my question as well. The overall plan seems to be:

    Step 1: Mob action against the bigot which includes many blog posts, calls to boycott his business, bad reviews of his business, and distributing photos of his discriminatory (and now removed) sign all over the internet.

    Step 2: Refuse to accept his apology, which appears to have been both sincere and prompt, because hypothetically an atheist would’ve been treated much worse by Christians if the situation were reversed.

    Step 3: Patiently explain to the bigot that he should be more tolerant of others, just like we are.

    Skeptics destroyed my irony meter… who’d believe it?

  24. 24
    BrianX

    nonsequitur:

    #1 is a good idea. #2 is not so good. My philosophy of piling on is to stop when the situation is rectified. I still think piling on is not inherently a bad idea; it’s just a good idea to know when to stop as well.

  25. 25
    Gretchen

    Neonsequitur, that made me laugh. Well played.

  26. 26
    tomh

    neonsequitur wrote:

    … his apology, which appears to have been both sincere…

    I can’t imagine why anyone would think this apology was sincere. You have a typical Christian bigot, who claims to have witnessed an undescribed event, by a single person, that was so horrendous that he had to put up a sign rejecting business from 1100 possible customers (insulting them in the process). When he realized, or, more likely, someone pointed out, that he was costing himself a lot of money and possibly getting in legal trouble, he reversed himself with a phony apology on his web site. Big deal.

  27. 27
    juniper

    I agree with Gretchen as well as the Pharyngula commenters who think that several of the responses to the shop owner were inappropriate. (Frankly, my response to shop owners who don’t want to sell to me for bigoted reasons is to shrug and find someone who will. This situation would only cause me hardship in the case that I needed to obtain something necessary for work or survival– gelato does not fall into this category, especially because it lacks cream and is nowhere near as delicious as everyone insists– and no one was willing to sell it to me.) But I also agree with BrianX that the tone of Gretchen’s first comment was snooty. So, Gretchen, I am somewhat surprised at your scornful reaction to his criticism, because you are someone who has criticized other people’s comments almost entirely for their tone as opposed to their content on this blog in the past.

  28. 28
    Ed Brayton

    No, I did not follow any Twitter hashtags because, as a general rule, I try to ignore Twitter as much as possible. I have no desire to destroy anyone. I’m just not going to give the guy any of my business on the rare — once a year — occasion that I might be able to do so. Others may well be overreacting in ways I haven’t bothered to keep up with; I think my reaction is perfectly reasonable.

    I didn’t even hear about last year’s controversy over being next to a gun show. I absolutely agree with Gretchen that being a skeptic does not in any way lead logically to a position on gun control or gun rights. I can’t really imagine why anyone would care that another group of people was holding a conference on something they oppose; there’s an easy solution to that — don’t go to it. Just like I’m choosing not to go to this guy’s gelato business (and I rather like gelato).

    And on another note, it really sucks that Gretchen was at last year’s Skepticon and I wasn’t, and I was at this year’s but she wasn’t. /disappointed

  29. 29
    grim

    This guy critically evaluated one of his past views, and rejected it in light of new evidence (even if that evidence was “my shop is losing money and credibility”). Isn’t this the sort of thing that skeptics should be admiring? I understand that his apology might not seem sincere, but apologies like that often require one to examine deeply held privileges. That’s not easy, even for those of us trained in skepticism.

  30. 30
    BrianX

    Ed:

    I don’t think it’s so much that skepticism leads to any specific position on gun rights so much as one of several. It really depends on your policy goal — are you trying to get guns in the hands of as many people as possible (i.e. citizen militia), safeguard access, deal with gun injuries and deaths from a public health standpoint, or some combination of the above? From a public health standpoint, for example, (my main view), the question really depends on the ability of an individual gun owner to handle the responsibility of lethal force and the circumstances under which it’s to be carried. However, reasonable people can disagree, given other emphasis. The point of irony seems to be related to the perception of the most visible gun owners being, well, sort of crazy and paranoid, neither of which are virtues among skeptics.

  31. 31
    BrianX

    (For the record, I would never under any circumstances issue a gun permit to myself. I’m not capable of handling that responsibly — long-term mental health issues.)

  32. 32
    Michael Heath

    BrianX:

    The point of irony seems to be related to the perception of the most visible gun owners being, well, sort of crazy and paranoid, neither of which are virtues among skeptics.

    Cite requested that gun owners are “sort of crazy and paranoid”. I purposefully filtered out the weasel words, “perception”, “visible” and “sort of”, since I think it’s clear what your defense here is, which I’m not buying and therefore request a cite. It is after all a factual assertion, so let’s see if you are in fact right, or wrong. I’m betting on the latter.

  33. 33
    dono

    The apology seemed sincere enough to me, but I want to comment about the toy drive and the “full-size Hum-Vee equipped with an artillery gun that may have once been used in a fight to defend our freedom.”

    When was the last war in which our freedom was threatened? Unless there were Hum-Vees used in the American Revolution, I don’t think that description is accurate.

  34. 34
    jamessweet

    He doesn’t say what alleged “event” took place to make him so angry but it really doesn’t matter.

    I thought it was obvious from context that the “event” was Skepticon itself….?

    Anyway, I tend to agree with those that, as far as apologies go, this is a pretty decent one. We can’t ever know if it’s sincere, but that’s not entirely the point anyway: He owns up that it was a mistake, made directly by him (None of this “mistakes were made” nonsense), that it wasn’t okay, and directly apologized. Can’t really ask for much more… Except for to not have done it in the first place, of course, but I’m sure the owner wishes that now too.

    Doesn’t mean you have to go to the guy’s store, of course. I probably wouldn’t either :)

    I absolutely agree with Gretchen that being a skeptic does not in any way lead logically to a position on gun control or gun rights.

    The one thing that I think it would lead to is an acknowledgment that gun violence has varied causes and solutions are not simple. An outright ban on guns would not cut gun violence nearly as much as we might intuitively expect (but it would reduce it by more than zero). That doesn’t lead directly to an opinion on the issue, but I do think skeptics ought to acknowledge the complexity of the issue. Beyond that, yeah, I agree that skepticism doesn’t lead directly to an opinion on that.

  35. 35
    Michael Heath

    jamessweet:

    An outright ban on guns would not cut gun violence nearly as much as we might intuitively expect (but it would reduce it by more than zero).

    Do you have cite for this assertion? As a proponent of gun control, I’ve been searching for such evidence for years to empirically strengthen my ‘competing rights’ arguments; where I take the position my right to not be threatened is sometimes greater than other’s rights to bear arms, e.g., a restaurant or while working in a privately owned corporation not part of the gun industry. It’s my understanding a finding supportive of your assertion which has been independently validated and therefore more confidently held remains the undiscovered holy grail of gun control advocates.

  36. 36
    arakasi

    Jen has a more detailed apology from the guy that was posted on Reddit:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2011/11/an-apology-to-skepticon-from-gelato-mio/

    It appears that the “event” he mentions was Sam Singleton’s revivial. It appears he walked in, freaked out and overreacted. He freely admits: “I’m not apologizing for my beliefs, but rather for my inexcusable actions. I was wrong”

    I’m willing to accept this apology – it’s not the weasely “I apologize if anyone was offended” that we hear so often.

  37. 37
    gingerbaker

    LOL. An outright ban on guns would have 20% of the populace angrily taking to the streets with loaded weapons.

    It’s difficult to imagine a gun ban study that could possibly be well-controlled, because the U.S. is such an outlier compared to other nations, as we have somewhere between 0.5 to 1.0 billion guns in closets across the land. Testing an isolated community would be nearly worthless as a guide to a national ban as well, because there would be a confounding lag as illegal arms filtered back into the community.

    Why bother even using kcals to think about it – it is unconstitutional and politically impossible anyway.

  38. 38
    gingerbaker

    PZ has decided to take a hard militant stance and not accept the apology which is interesting. And ugly.

  39. 39
    Gretchen

    Jen and Hemant have accepted the apology; JT and PZ have not. If given the opportunity to bet on how that would turn out, I could’ve made bank.

  40. 40
    BrianX

    Michael:

    If you filtered out the “weasel words”, you missed some important details there.

  41. 41
    Michael Heath

    BrianX:

    If you filtered out the “weasel words”, you missed some important details there.

    I’d argue no, I instead saw right through your ploy given you obviously used weasel words and a whole bunch of them in a clear attempt to make a point without having to bother defending it. Especially given I’m confident you can’t provide any evidence defending your “crazy and paranoid” assertion yet still wanted to put that phrase out there.

    So if you have evidence please have at it; if you don’t and have integrity you’d concede your point misrepresents a whole class of other people. That is if you subscribe to Christopher Hitchen’s admonition, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

  42. 42
    BrianX

    No, Michael, I chose my words very carefully. I meant exactly what I said. There is a minority of crazy and paranoid gun owners who manage to be the most visible ones out there, and present themselves as speaking for all gun owners. Those are the ones I am referring to.

  43. 43
    gesres

    gingerbaker wrote:

    PZ has decided to take a hard militant stance and not accept the apology which is interesting. And ugly.

    I agree that it’s ugly. And embarrassing. And disappointing. I would have hoped that our community would show more class than that, particularly our leaders.

  44. 44
    Worldtraveller

    Not accepting his apology is not that big of a deal. It means that Gelatoguy now has to do something more to earn the trust/respect/business of a large part of the atheist/skeptical community. Why is that so bad? I think if Skepticon V is in Springfield, at the same location, he could pretty much earn all that back by putting a sign in his window that said ‘Atheists and skeptics welcome’, even better if he offers a discount with a ticket/pass. That would be a win/win for everyone. Hopefuly, because it would also show the other, majority xians in the area (that may have cheered him for the sign) that it is wrong to discriminate and people should show tolerance for others’ beliefs, even if they disagree (and do so vocally).

    I think those of you who are calling this ‘ugly, mean’, etc. are the one’s who are out of line and owe everyone an apology. (See what I did there?)

  45. 45
    Michael Heath

    fastlane:

    [PZ Myers?] Not accepting his apology is not that big of a deal. It means that Gelatoguy now has to do something more to earn the trust/respect/business of a large part of the atheist/skeptical community.

    Class isn’t demonstrated with justice or expectations of authentic contrition by those who’ve done one wrong, but instead with grace.

    PZ Myers provides a necessary a beneficial rite of passage into atheism for recent ex-religionists justifiably bitter about how their parents and community indoctrinated them (or at least tried) and abused them. However one would hope these people would evolve beyond the sophomoric level his tribe normally demonstrates and learn how to demonstrate a type of class that helps the group win, not merely feel good at the moment by acting out against proxies.

  46. 46
    Aquaria

    As I pointed out at Pharyngula, if a white person had put up a sign that said NO NIGGERS ALLOWED IN MY WHITE BUSINESS, nobody here would expect such a pathetic apology to do the trick for black people, but when blatant, bigoted and hateful discrimination happens to atheists, it’s hunky fucking dory and we should be oh-so-grateful for massa deigning to apologize to us.

    That’s what’s wrong with the apology. The people who are saying, “Oh, he apologized, isn’t that wonderful”? You’re like the white people who expected the black family at one of my schools to “accept the apology” of the white teacher who called their child a nigger, rather than filing the lawsuit they deserved to (and followed through on). An apology should have been enough for them–right? I mean, that is what you’re basically arguing. It’s all right for bigots to behave like bigots and an apology wipes the slate clean.

    Bullshit.

    No, I don’t accept that apology. I don’t have to, and neither does PZ or Ed. Maybe because we understand why it’s a bullshit apology.

  47. 47
    Aquaria

    Jen and Hemant have accepted the apology; JT and PZ have not. If given the opportunity to bet on how that would turn out, I could’ve made bank.

    Argument from authority doesn’t become you.

    They don’t speak for anyone but themselves, so who fucking cares if they decide to play Step n Fetchit or not?

  48. 48
    Gretchen

    You do, apparently, or you wouldn’t focus on my comment to pretend it contained an argument where none existed.

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