CFI Michigan Files Suit Over Dawkins Cancellation

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.

CFI v Golf Course Services Complaint 04-27-2012 Dawkins Wyndgate Lawsuit

21 comments on this post.
  1. bbgunn:

    On first read of the headline, I thought CFI planned to sue Dawkins for cancelling an appearance with them. Glad I know enough to read further than the headline.

  2. amenhotepstein:

    This seems like a cut-and-dried violation of Title II, as well as a clear breach of contract. CFI-Michigan should have no trouble winning its case.

    So why am I uneasy….

  3. wscott:

    The breach of contract case is clear enough. But as a private entity, doesn’t the club have the right to decide what speakers they do and don’t want to have?

  4. abb3w:

    I wonder what the odds are of CFI-MI (and their lawyers) ending up owning a Country Club….

  5. Chiroptera:

    wscott, #3: The breach of contract case is clear enough.

    So much so that I’m surprised. Does the owner really think he’s going to get away with this?

    -

    But as a private entity, doesn’t the club have the right to decide what speakers they do and don’t want to have?

    The law that Ed cited seems clear enough. Are you thinking that it’s being misinterpreted?

  6. slc1:

    Re wscott @ #3

    The club rents out space to outside parties, therefore is included as a place of public accommodation and thus can’t discriminate on the basis of religion or lack thereof.

  7. Ed Brayton:

    If it remained a private club and only served its members, then yes it would have the legal right to pick and choose. But it offers its services to the public and signed a contract for this event, so under both state and federal law it cannot engage in such discrimination.

  8. snebo154:

    One would think that the breach of contract was so blatantly obvious that no one in their right mind would believe there would not be recriminations. Unfortunately Christians are so convinced that everyone agrees with them (you know, deep in their hearts where it really counts) that they can’t belive that someone would actually punish them for obeying God. We can only hope that when this is settled there will be at least one more who gets it right.

  9. sqlrob:

    Why did it take so long? I would’ve expected a suit to be filed a lot faster.

  10. jaranath:

    Amenhotepstein:

    I would say you’re uneasy because the courts have, in my opinion, made a conscious effort to screw nonbelievers in a lot of recent cases. Denial of standing comes immediately to mind, though I’m aware they can’t pull that one in this case.

  11. otrame:

    *reminds self to check on popcorn supplies.

    This will be fun. Oh, to be a fly in the court room during jury selection.

  12. eigenperson:

    #3 wscott:

    Ed’s summary of the case is a little unclear. It makes it sound like the country club had invited Dawkins and then backed out.

    Actually, what happened was that CFI Michigan contracted with the country club. The deal was that CFI would host an event on the premises of the country club. Dawkins was going to speak at the event.

    If the country club people are hosting their own event, they can invite whatever speaker they like.

    But if the country club people are going to allow other people, like CFI Michigan to host events on their premises, they can’t discriminate on the basis of those people’s religion, according to the law.

  13. reasonbeing:

    Glad you guys are pursuing legal action Ed. It seems pretty clear based on the three legal items you explained. Keep us informed on this case…sorry to say it most likely won’t make a big splash in the news media.

  14. wscott:

    @ Ed, slc1 & eigenperson: OK, that makes more sense. Thanks.

  15. Marcus Ranum:

    I’m sure the club’s owners are going to fight to the last drop – just like the christians did against the lions in the coliseum, or something like that. Because they’re true believers (obviously) and it’s (obviously) a matter of principle, so money won’t matter at all. Suckers.

  16. democommie:

    It will be interesting to see if the club’s membership vote with their golf spikes and seek greener greens–or at least a less obtuse chairman/owner*.

    * Is the “owner” actually the owner or is he is appointed/elected to a CEO equivalent position?

  17. otrame:

    Looks like the ice cream guy got much better legal advice. Or that he was willing to actually follow the good legal advice he got.

  18. Childermass:

    slqrob:

    Why did it take so long? I would’ve expected a suit to be filed a lot faster.

    I too have to ask this question. Indeed that it took so long is troubling. Was it hard to find a good lawyer willing to take the case?

    I am not a lawyer, but the point to push, especially if a jury is involved, is the breech of contract. Even people who don’t like disbelievers tend to recognize that everyone has the right have deals honored. The defendants acted dishonorably and by their actions harmed the plaintiffs.

  19. baal:

    Every State and federal law that you can sue on in court has a Statute of Limitations. It’s a legal bar that prevents plaintiffs from suing after a certain amount of time. The exact amount of time and when the clock starts and if you can pause the clock (etc) are the topic of much fun for lawyers. The civil rights claims in MI (and I think federally) have a three year window and the breach of contract claim has a 6 year window to sue in.

    The amount of time is usually seen as a balancing act between your right to seek redress for a harm, how hard it is to sue a particular case and how much of an interest the State has in your legal action. From a practical side, plaintiffs need some time to think about how to sue, get some cash together for the plaintiff attorney, gather evidence and do those mundane chores of getting your ducks in a row before you start having filing deadlines.

  20. ArtK:

    I don’t think it really took too long at all. We’ve been a bit, uh, spoiled because whenever there’s a major disaster, the lawsuits are filed before the dust begins to settle. But frequently that’s because there can be a benefit to the lawyer (and plaintiff) who files first, especially if the case becomes a class action. In that situation, a sketchy complaint is better than none.

    In the CSI Michigan case, it wouldn’t surprise me that they tried to resolve the issue outside of the court first. A few rounds of “you breached contract you idiot, pay up” and “Nyah, nyah, make me” could easily eat up several months. As Ball says above, getting your ducks in a row (including showing that you tried to resolve it outside of the courts) is very important if you want to succeed, rather than just garner publicity.

  21. file network:

    file network…

    [...]CFI Michigan Files Suit Over Dawkins Cancellation | Dispatches from the Culture Wars[...]…

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