The Center for Inquiry reports:
Prejudice against atheists manifested itself again when The Wyndgate Country
Club in Rochester Hills, Michigan (outside of Detroit), cancelled an event with
scientist and author Richard Dawkins after learning of Dawkins’s views on
religion. The event had been arranged by the Center for Inquiry–Michigan (CFI), an advocacy group for secularism and science, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
The Wyndgate terminated the agreement after the owner saw an October 5th
interview with Dawkins on The O’Reilly Factor in which Dawkins
discussed his new book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really
In a phone call to CFI–Michigan Assistant Director Jennifer Beahan, The
Wyndgate’s representative explained that the owner did not wish to associate
with individuals such as Dawkins, or his philosophies.
Oh gee, that’s against the law. CFI has quite a few lawyers on the staff. The owner is in for a bumpy ride.
“It’s important to understand that discrimination based on a person’s
religion—or lack thereof—is legally equivalent to discriminating against a
person because of his or her race,” said Jeff Seaver, executive director of
CFI–Michigan. “This action by The Wyndgate illustrates the kind of bias and
bigotry that nonbelievers encounter all the time. It’s exactly why organizations
like CFI and the Richard Dawkins Foundation are needed: to help end the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever.”
Stigma? Stigma? STIGMA? What stigma? There is no stigma! Everybody knows that. It’s all just a big cry-baby fuss by gnu atheists. Joe Hoffmann said so last April, and Jacques Berlinerblau totes agreed with him.
Kevin Anthoney says
Maybe if Dawkins didn’t hide his atheism so much it wouldn’t come as such a shock to people.
What do you suggest? A large capital “A” tattooed on his forehead?
I think it was irony from #1
Unless I’ve been double-ironied and read too much into it. In which case, I’ll go hide under my bed for a bit.
Paul W. says
I’m curious how the case law actually goes with respect to things like this. I’d bet there’s a big gray area in there.
I would guess that if it went to court, the people refusing to rent a room to Dawkins would argue that they didn’t discriminate against him because of his (lack of) religion, per se, but because of specific objectionable and inflammatory views.
To pick a different not-really-analogous example, suppose the owner was Jewish, and the person renting the room was an anti-semitic Christian, frequently preaching “theology” like Martin Luther’s in “The Jews and Their Lies”—e.g., that Jews are a menace and ought to be treated like the shit they (supposedly) are.
If the owner refused to rent the room to that person, and claimed it wasn’t because he was a Christian, per se, but because he was a flaming antisemite, would they be judged in violation of Title II?
Of course, I don’t think Dawkins is like that—he’s a reasonable, civil guy, not engaged in hate speech, who happens to express views about religion that are objectionable to many religious people, for different reasons. (And not very good ones.) It’s straightforward religious disagreement.
I’d hope the courts would see it that way—and that Dawkins is being discriminated against on clearly religious grounds—but I don’t know if they would.
Wait. Dawkins has stigmata? Or did I read that incorrectly?
Tim Martin says
The law on these matters is interesting to me.
Discrimination isn’t a dirty word. Discrimination *for the wrong reasons* is, specifically, the problem. Thinking less of someone because of the color of their skin is discriminating for the wrong reason. Thinking less of someone because of their values is discriminating for the right reason. In this sense, discrimination based on religion is nothing like discrimination based on race. The latter is obviously without merit. The former
is exactly why you wouldn’t want someone who believes that science and faith are compatible directing the NIH.
What I would like to know is if there are any circumstances under which Wyndgate would be legally allowed to not accept a group – similar to what Paul W. suggested in comment #4 about “objectionable and inflammatory views.”
Not really a good analogy, considering dis-belief contains no dogma/rules/codes/laws. Even considering the possible criminal side of it, atheists are less likely to engage in such enterprise (or maybe we’re so good at it that we don’t get caught as often… who knows).
This is estabolished case law and to have a judge rule for the owner, who is renting to the public, would be an interesting read in what constitutes discrimination.
Ophelia Benson says
Tim Martin makes a good point. It’s related to the reservations I always have about those surveys that ask “would you vote for” a black a Jew a gay an atheist a Mormon a Muslim etc.
The reservation is that I know the “right” answer is always yes, but with the religious ones it always depends – it depends on what kind of ___; it depends on what the actual, active beliefs are. Bachmann’s beliefs for instance rule her right out.
Paul W. says
I realize that the antisemitic Christian a “bad analogy” to Dawkins—that was largely the point—but it’s not clear to me what is “established case law.”
How do the courts draw a line between illegal “religious” discrimination and legal “viewpoint” discrimination, or some other allowable form of discrimination?
Are there standard tests, like the Lemon test in church/state cases?
Given the weird interplay between religion, “non-religious” beliefs, and “values,” there has to be a sizable gray area in there somewhere, and I’m curious what has actually been established in law.
I would not assume that Title II means in practice what it seems to say in principle.
Keep us posted on this. I hope I hear that a lawsuit is actually brought.
cpt banjo says
According to news reports, the event (at which Dawkins was to speak) was moved to a different venue and is sold out. So what does CFI think it would accomplish by bringing a lawsuit?
Rich Wilson says
Defending civil rights?
Ophelia Benson says
I don’t know that CFI thinks it would accomplish anything by bringing a lawsuit, because I don’t know that it’s planning to bring a lawsuit. Do you?
If it were, though, I would guess Rich Wilson has the right answer.
cpt banjo says
I inferred from CFI’s statement that “The owner is in for a bumpy ride” that some sort of legal action is contemplated by CFI.
Apparently CFI had a contract with the Club that the latter breached. Unless the cost to rent the new venue (plus the cost of communicating the new location to the ticket buyers) was greater than the rent the club was charging, there would appear to be no actual damages so that a standard breach of contract claim would be pointless.
A suit under Title II can seek only injunctive relief, not monetary damages, so I suppose if CFI wanted some publicity it might seek to enjoin the club from further discrimination against atheist speakers, but would the effort really be worth it?
There’s an old saying about picking your battles, and I just don’t think this one is where CFI wants to spend its resources.
Ophelia Benson says
The bumpy ride wasn’t CFI’s statement, it was mine (I was paraphrasing Bette Davis in “All About Eve”).
What you are describing is not a gift, it’s extortion: either do what I say or suffer horribly for eternity for some minor transgression.
Even children grow tired of being children, so your god will be in the same predicament in fairly short time. Your god couldn’t even stop his own angels from turning against him, so why would a group that had free will be any different?
And for the record, your Jesus suffered no more harshly than others have suffered throughout history. He wasn’t a perfect sacrifice; he was damaged before his sacrifice (blemished would be the correct word for all those bruises and wounds). Part of the other problem with being a sacrifice is that he ‘knew’ what was going on in the story. That’s not real sacrifice. Sacrifice is allowing yourself to be negatively impacted (up to and including death) in order to save others with no regard for future benefit. It’s a simplistic story to fleece people who won’t put any concerted effort into thinking for themselves. You’d think your god would want people that reasoned stuff out on their own.
Ophelia Benson says
# 17 was basically religious spam, so it’s not here any more.