The Center for Inquiry – Michigan has filed suit in federal court over the cancellation last fall of a speech by Richard Dawkins at the Wyndgate Country Club in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Dawkins was scheduled to speak on Oct. 12, 2011, but on Oct. 6, the country club suddenly told us that they were cancelling the event because the owner had seen Dawkins on TV and didn’t want to associate himself with the famous atheist.
There are three legal claims in this suit. The first is a federal claim under Title II of the Civil Rights Act, which says:
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.
Wyndgate offered its services to the public and CFI sought to use those services just as any other individual or organization could so, but was denied on the basis of religion. Note that this does not require that atheism be a religion — it obviously isn’t — but that the denial be “on the ground” of religion. As the complaint notes, Title II includes “discrimination on the basis of not having a religion, i.e., on the basis of one’s atheism or agnosticism.”
The second claim is under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which is the Michigan equivalent of the federal law cited above. The language is virtually identical and the legal argument is as well.
The third claim is for breach of contract. We had a signed contract for the event, the tickets had been sold, the travel arrangements had been made, and much more. When they suddenly decided, less than a week before it was to take place, to cancel the event, it cost the organization a good deal of money to find a new venue at a much higher cost.
The fact is that if this was a Christian group that had this happen, no one would doubt that it was illegal. It is no less so here.
Disclaimer: I am on the advisory board for CFI Michigan.