A query from the mailbag

A reader sent me a mild ethical problem, and asked that I put it up to get reader input. This isn’t a life-or-death sort of situation, but the kind of low-level, day-to-day aggravation with which we’re all familiar.

Today I went to get my car inspected as my state requires it annually, and you will get a ticket for having an expired inspection sticker. The inspection place I went to had a Christian radio station in the waiting room. I politely asked the guy at the desk (who I later confirmed was the owner) to change the channel to one that was not religious. He said he would not.

I explained that not all of his customers are Christians – surely some are Jewish and some are not religious at all. He still refused and I told him that he was discriminating by making me listen to his religion being promoted. He replied that when he goes to stores owned by Chinese people he has to listen to what they play. I replied that I doubted they were promoting their own religion. I continued to calmly tell him that I don’t appreciate someone pushing their religions views on me and that his shop should be welcoming to people of all religions and no religion. He ignored this comment and continued with his paperwork for my inspection, at which point I told him I would take my business elsewhere, and I left.

I know he has a right to put whatever he wants on the radio, and that I have a right to give my business to whoever I want to give it to, but was I being prejudiced? My gut feel is that I did the right thing but I’m wondering how someone else would see it and would love to know what your readers think.

I think it was handled exactly right: make a polite and reasonable request of the person expecting your business, and if they won’t agree, take your business elsewhere. This isn’t unique to religious broadcasting, either — I’d feel the same way if I had to listen to Rush Limbaugh while waiting on some car maintenance. The only concern would be if there were only one local place that could handle your legally-mandated requirements, in which case there might be grounds for making a bigger stink.

Otherwise, though, publicize. I think a smart strategy in this kind of situation is not to go after the shop owner, but go after the source. Write a letter to the paper, highlighting some offensive stupidity from that radio station, and make it clear that you won’t frequent businesses that play that kind of inanity. Spread the word among your friends and get them to write in, too — get enough people to make mild (you don’t need to picket for this to work) public criticisms of station KJRK, and even business owners who love KJRK will make it a policy not to blare something that will scare away customers.


  1. Observer says

    No, I wouldn’t make a big deal of it. When I go into restaurants that have Fox News on the TV, say, I ask if I can change it, though sometimes I like the brief exposure to what I dislike. If the person says no, I wouldn’t make a deal of it. That kind of picayune stuff is what hurts atheists more than helps. Take the higher ground and bring an IPOD with you next time. There are much bigger battles.

  2. Rhampton says

    Since private businesses do not have the same restrictions as governmental agencies regarding religious expression, nothing illegal (or unethical) occurred in the aforementioned situation.

    Personally, I wouldn’t complain. A truly tolerant society must accept the differences of others — even Christian-run auto shops.

  3. Observer says

    I should also add, the person has a boring job, and if they’re listening to their favorite radio program, give them a break. I mean, when I’m at Jiffy Lube, how long am I there for? A half hour at the MOST? Not even? I don’t even consider what station they have on. I read something.

  4. David Wilford says

    As I’m not bothered by something I couldn’t care less about in the first place, I wouldn’t waste any time or effort complaining about it. Life’s too short to go looking for trouble, as trouble finds you often enough as it is.

  5. JBL says

    “I told him that he was discriminating by making me listen to his religion being promoted.”

    You were clearly wrong about this.

    Unrelatedly, your decision about where to take your business is, well, your business, and if a Christian radio station is the reason you do that, it’s fine with me.

  6. says

    I used to take a book to read while my old car was on the emissions testing juggernaut machine thing. If someone was listening to Christian radio, Islamic radio, or the like, I probably would not have noticed nor cared much.

    In the end, though, sure – make the request – and then vote with your wallet if you don’t like the response. I’m not sure how the law applies to government contractors with regard to how they do business in general, but in healthcare we require our contractors to abide by HIPAA regulations, etc.

  7. says

    Yep – sounds like a perfectly reasonable way to handle things. As a consumer, this person has all the power to make the requests and then act on them if they’re not satisifed.

  8. Christian Burnham says

    I wouldn’t complain. I would use it as an opportunity to hear what ‘the other side’ thinks.

    With the right attitude, Christian radio can be pretty funny. It’ll also make you feel smart that you don’t listen to it.

    At the very least, think of it as an anthopological exercise.

  9. Jim says

    I once asked a part owner of a cafe to change the music to something other than Christmas music. She seemed relieved that I asked and changed the station.

  10. says

    Was the guy behind the desk the owner? It’s the owner you need to tell if you find something in the business that might cause you to go elsewhere.

  11. says

    Passivity is not a good solution. I agree that this isn’t the kind of thing that should be addressed with temper tantrums, riots, or legal responses, but good grief…atheists have to at least make their presence known. Sure, you can sit down and listen to the weirdos on Christian radio, but do they ever listen to you? Especially if you never so much as politely express your dislike of proselytizing in the auto repair shop?

  12. remy says

    If you don’t like how you are being treated then it makes sense to take your business elsewhere.

    I would have liked it though. I often listen to something called Grace f.m. and view it as a comedy station. It is amazing how they can unite two opposing ideas into an odd caricature of logic.

  13. Hank Fox says

    My own feelings about customer service say the guy should have turned it off if a customer requested it. It is a private business, though. I think the guy handled it right.

    I like PZ’s publicity idea. Use the anger that flows out of the event, but aim it at some more breachable wall.

    In the same way that we’re often encouraged to donate to various charities in the name of someone we know – a friend dies in an alcohol-related driving accident and we donate to Mothers Against Drunk Driving – maybe this fellow could also find some larger atheist cause and donate some time or money to it in, so to speak, this company’s name.

    Find a young person open to freethought ideas and buy him or her a subscription to Skeptic Magazine. Quietly donate a copy of “The Demon-Haunted World” or “The God Delusion” to the local high school library. Or maybe see about getting an atheist discussion group started at a coffeehouse close to the nearby college.

  14. Rieux says

    Rhampton wrote:

    Since private businesses do not have the same restrictions as governmental agencies regarding religious expression, nothing illegal (or unethical) occurred in the aforementioned situation.

    Strawman: no one has alleged that the desk clerk’s behavior was illegal.

    As for “unethical,” I for one think it is unethical, thank you, for a business ostensibly open to the public to proselytize for a particular religion. (One wonders how you made the jump from your observation about legal “restrictions [on] governmental agencies regarding religious expression” to your contention that the clerk’s behavior was ethical. Obviously the latter does not logically follow from the former.)

    Personally, I wouldn’t complain. A truly tolerant society must accept the differences of others — even Christian-run auto shops.

    Seems to me that you’re operating on a warped notion of “tolerance,” not to mention making the absurd implication that the Pharyngula reader’s reaction (and PZ’s approval of same) is intolerant.

    As the reader PZ quoted points out, the clerk is engaging in baldfaced religious evangelism in a business that’s allegedly open to the public–and persisting in it even when customers complain.

    I say evangelism that obnoxious is wrong, pal, and the day that that mere idea (and mild expressive activity based on it–such as the conversation detailed in the story) is automatically “intolerant” is the day that you “tolerant” folks have forfeited any claim to be interested in standing up for justice.

    If the concept is to be of any ethical use at all, “tolerance” cannot require the tacit acceptance of intolerance.

  15. says

    Now, if you’re carrying a Sharpie, the bathroom wall is a nice spot for a menacing pentagrams and/or that weird Blue Oyster Cult symbol…

    Okay, okay, it depends on my mood.

  16. Justin Moretti says

    I would not have complained once the proprietor refused to change the station. It makes sense to shut up and listen. You need to know what the other side is saying, after all.

    If you’re the only one waiting in the shop, fair enough to ask them to change stations; if they don’t, I really can’t see it’s worth that much of a fuss. If you aren’t the only one waiting, it’s probably more polite not to ask.

    Of course if the radio show is advocating burning homosexuals or executing abortionists or locking up single mothers or something like that, yes, then it’s time to get on your high horse and storm out (and possibly go to the police, depending on how seriously they’re advocating it).

  17. Observer says

    PZ, it’s not passivity. A small auto-repair place is not Borders where I spend an hour or two. I hate Muzak, I hate elevator music, sports on TVs in restaurants, Spanish stations, Rush Limbaugh, etc. Inspections take me 15 minutes – it’s simply not a big deal. I encounter these things all the time. She made her point, she can take her business elsewhere, they might consider it, but it’s not passivity to not make a statement every place I go and every time I encounter anything religious. I’d feel like the whiner I accuse Christians of being with their Happy Holidays complaints and all.

  18. Christian Burnham says


    I would argue that any atheist who engages in debate in the hope of changing someone’s mind about religion is ‘evangelizing’.

  19. Gelf says

    I don’t see where this is an ethical problem. As the correspondent observed, both parties were well within their rights. Given the events as described, and the tone of the query, it seems to me that the correspondent might sense that he was just the slightest bit too sensitive about the whole affair, and he wrote to PZ looking for a kind of absolution in “attaboy” form from a sympathetic community.

    Regret to inform that I, for one, can’t provide such. Go with your gut, Correspondent: little bit whiny there. Christians get their most annoying when they act like the sky is falling just because they met somebody who openly believes differently from them. Ideally we want for them to quit that, not for us to start it.

  20. Martín Pereyra says

    De gustibus non disputandur: though I also think this reader overreacted, if s/he feels uncomfortable with Christian radio in a business, at the point s/he doesn’t want to be attended there, and s/he can’t distract with anything, s/he has all the right to leave the business. (After all, the client is always right.) Personally, I find religious propaganda funny and I wouldn’t complain.

  21. Martín Pereyra says

    De gustibus non disputandur: though I also think this reader overreacted, if s/he feels uncomfortable with Christian radio in a business, at the point s/he doesn’t want to be attended there, and s/he can’t distract with anything, s/he has all the right to leave the business. (After all, the client is always right.) Personally, I find religious propaganda funny and I wouldn’t complain.

  22. bybelknap says

    There is a very conveniently located Sunoco station that I used to go to. Shortly after 9/11 the owner put a cartoon of an old woman saying “It’s One Nation UNDER GOD and if you don’t like it, LEAVE.” I told the guy that the cartoon was really offensive. He used the efficacious word and told me to remove myself efficaciously from his shop or he would efficaciously kick my posterior out of it. I replied in kind, and vowed not to return.

    I have been thinking a lot about it recently, since I have become a bit more militant in my atheism. I have calculated that in the years since then, I have spent approximately 20 thousand dollars on gas and sundries at another gas station (I drive over 30 thousand miles a year). I wonder how he would react to know that his little cartoon cost that much?

    I think there is a fairly large difference between being discriminated against and being offended. I was offended by the cartoon, because it specifically discriminated against atheists. The message was plain – if you don’t believe in (my brand of God) get out of the country. I don’t think that xtian radio as background noise, as aesthetically awful as it is, rises to discrimination, absent any analysis of the actual content.

    On the other hand, I think it is a very good idea to provide both positive and negative feedback to everyone with whom one does business. One doesn’t have to be nasty about it when providing negative feedback. A simple, “I find xyandz about your shop to be a problem for me.” It is then up to the business owner to decide if your business is important enough for him to change. In the raw nerved times shortly after 9/11 I don’t think my gas station guy cared much about a single customer with a beef about his “patriotic” cartoon. But I’m very curious to know what he would think about that 20 thousand dollars now.

  23. says

    While I think “discriminating” is the wrong word, it is certainly an imposition when a business subjects its clients (or potential clients) to objectionable media (esp. loud sports stations in restaurants). The correspondent handled it pretty well otherwise, noting an objection and then decamping when the response was deemed unsatisfactory. (Frankly, the proprietor’s riposte about Chinese store owners was marginally creepy and I’d prefer not to do business with someone who thinks that is a good answer.)

    In my own case, however, I share Remy’s predilection for listening to religious broadcasts as unintentional comedy — and also to keep tabs on what the nut cases are up to. I probably would have sat quietly (perhaps with a book or magazine), while pricking up my ears at “good” stuff from the radio. Perhaps even chuckling on occasion. Or sharing a warm, intimate moment with the proprietor by confiding some little tidbit like “Oh, that D. James Kennedy! Isn’t he a riot? Man wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him on the ass!”

    Of course, my car would then probably flunk its inspection.

  24. Christian says

    I must say that I find appropriate viewpoints in quite a few of these comments.

    I will for one say that making a stand at the auto inspection place isn’t necessarily productive. After the first request to change the station, and they didn’t, that should probably be the end of it.

    I wouldn’t go there again though if it is a private shop. Far better to spend the money someplace else more amenable to your tastes.

    I do agree with the comments about regarding that sort of radio station as a comedy station. What else can such distorted logic be? My personal favorites for that type of amusement are Hank Hanagraph and R.C. Sproul. Good for quite a few giggles in a Pythonesque way.

  25. Christian says

    And I must admit, the Chinese comment by the store owner was quite pointless, Buddhists in general aren’t too annoying, and even that is on the wane in China’s current society…

  26. Christian Burnham says

    There’s only room for one ‘Christian’ on this message-board. Do I have to change my name to ‘Jew’ now?

  27. T. Bruce McNeely says

    I think that the reader had a point, and made a reasonable request. He or she may have pressed the issue a bit hard after the owner’s refusal, and perhaps the point may have been more effectively made by walking out after the first refusal. However, that’s easy to say in hindsight. Remember, the customer is King (or Queen). If you walk, that’s money out of the offending party’s pocket. That’s gotta hurt.
    I had this problem when I was in a group medical parctice in a small town in BC. The office staff insisted on playing country music on the radio in the waiting room. At the time I despised country music, and occasionally hassled my poor staff to put on something less “offensive”. Since pop music was in the midst of the disco plague, and the only alternative was the CBC, that would have gone over like a lead balloon with our patients. Oddly enough, I am now more tolerant of country music (although very picky), but would still take a hike from any doctor or dentist’s office that insisted on playing an evangelical station or right wing loony when I need to relax. I can’t imagine what my blood pressure reading would be after a half hour of bible thumpin’, Rush Limbaugh, or the like…

  28. says

    There’s only room for one ‘Christian’ on this message-board.

    Let’s see: What was it that Christ said? I know! “Wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, there shall be sectarian violence.”

    It sounds more impressive in the original Irish.

  29. TheBlackCat says

    I personally cannot make decisions based on this information. What sort of Christian station? Are we talking Christian rock? Some sort of prayers? A bible-thumper saying everyone who doesn’t believe what he does is going to burn in hell for all eternity? How loud was the radio? Was it just on a radio next to his desk or was it being played over a general speaker system? If he turned it down would you still have been able to hear it? There are probably a dozen different variables that would go into my decision on what to do in this situation. If someone was just listening to Christian rock I would probably not care too much, if I even noticed. If he was listening to some sort of fairly benign sermon I might ask him to turn it down. If he was listening to someone insult most of the world’s population I might confront him about it.

    That being said, I have no problem with how the situation was handled. He has a right to play whatever he wants over the radio. And the writer has the right to criticize him for what he plays, either verbally or by taking his business elsewhere. That is how free speech works. It means people are allowed to say what they want. It also means you are allowed to criticize and judge people based on what they say. The response was perfectly acceptable and perfectly justifiable. I just cannot say it is the decision I would make without knowing more detail.

  30. Gabe says

    Give me a break. The owner has the right to play what he likes while he works there. You certainly have a right to go elsewhere, but in a privately owned business I think the owner should have the final say in what radio station is played. You’re in and out, I think a big fuss is being made out of nothing.

    What we really need him to do is realize he is wrong. Not we don’t want to listen to his radio. :P

  31. says

    Nah, once you find yourself in the Lion’s Den, you should just smile and be happy that YOU know that these people think there is a God. However demented said God must be, at least you have useful knowledge about the place you are dealing with. It happened to me when I went to get my dog groomed, by the third time I went, I realized that it was not just a coincidence that the bible station was on 24 hours a day. But at that point, I was so impressed with the workmanship, that I realized it was good that she thought somebody (GOD) was judging her every stroke of the clipper. Save the hero stuff for blogging, you don’t wanna bunch of disgruntled auto mechanics chasing you down in a pick-up, ugly scene. Remember, they probably didn’t have the Boston Lager education, and have been turning wrenches rather than visiting Orac and Rosenau and PZ (and Stacey by default).

  32. Karley says

    I’m a little militant when it comes to TV and music being forced on customers (or students) in places that I patronize. Even if it’s playing something I like- it’s a matter of principle for me, like prayer in school. If I can’t get up and turn the things off myself, I’ll ask them to turn it off. I give them no reason; just turn it off please sir.

    Some people above mentioned that they were “offended” to the people in charge of the noise. Don’t. Telling a right-winger that they’re being offensive will bring the same result as telling a schoolyard bully that they’re being mean.

    Be creative. If you’re still being polite, say you have a headache. If not, develop a “don’t fuck with me” air and simply tell them that they’re turning it off.*

    *might not work on 300-lb auto shop workers

  33. says

    Hmm. It’s a bit of a tough question here.

    Personally, I disagree with PZ about the ‘passivity’ issue. I don’t think it’s necessary, nor the right way to get the nontheistic community’s message out there, to nitpick these sorts of things every time they come up.

    I don’t know if I would have asked the man to change stations, but that’s just me. That said, I think everyone here acted within their rights. As a private business owner, he has every right to play whatever he chooses. Now, as a person whose shop is open to the public, he is somewhat bound by public morals to not play things likely to be found ‘obscene’ or ‘offensive’, words which are obviously loaded and hard to define. While we atheists might be offended by Xtian BS, it isn’t generally against public morality, cancelling out those grounds for forcing a change.

    Thus, the correspondent’s choice to take his/her business elsewhere is the justified means by which to deal with this. If enough customers are bothered, the man will be forced to either make a change or close his doors. Unlikely? Yes, but at least that’s the theory behind it.

    Now, while agreeing with the chosen course of action in principle, it’s not always so easy in practice. And, frankly, I do agree with some of the other posters that sometimes it’s better to just sit there and accept someone else’s choice of media than to get bothered by it. After all, I know that I often accuse the religious of being easily offended, and think that our society on the whole would benefit if people of all stripes were a little bit more thick-skinned and less quick to take umbrage.

    I also sometimes have a problem, though, of over-empathizing with others to the point of becoming uncomfortably deferential. Were I in the correspondent’s shoes, I would likely have thought of how I’d feel if I were the shop owner and had been listening to/watching something I like, and how aggravating I’d likely find it. So a large part of me would not want to annoy someone else and would rather bear my own brief discomfort than make another person’s day more difficult.

    I realize that, as a ‘customer service provider,’ he should pay attention to his customer’s needs, but I think that little annoyances certainly build up when you’re in customer service. Whenever I deal with anyone who deals with the public, I make an effort to make it as polite, quick, and painless as possible for them, because I KNOW how tedious their jobs can be. I hope that my little bit helps to keep them saner and more happy later on in their day…sort of like ‘paying it forward’ without the saccharine BS.

    Not everyone will agree, and I’m sure some people will think that I’m letting someone else ‘walk all over me’ or something. But I guess I just accept that walking into someone else’s space, even if that space is open to the public, might expose me to things I don’t like. That’s the risk I take, and if I got annoyed and left every single place that annoyed me one way or another, I’d soon be out of shops to patronize. Anyway, just my overly long two cents.

  34. K says

    I can’t believe anyone is actually suggesting that you should go ahead and ask the owner to change the station, and when they tell you, “no,” to just sit meekly down and take it.
    Shame on you (and you know who ya’ll are) for being a bunch of doormats. What’s the point in asking someone to stop if you’re just going to wimp out at the end? Might as well sit down, shut up, and be a good little sheep in the first place. I can just hear the stupid fundie now, “This Atheist came in and DEMANDED that I turn off GAWD! I told her no, how dare she deny the WORD of GAWD! Gawd touched her heart and when she heard the good word she sat right down and listened. She was touched by an ANGEL!”
    Now he can only say, “There are Atheists out there who won’t put up with my crap and I lost money today. I hope she doesn’t tell all her Atheists friends.”

  35. craig says

    I personally think you overreacted. Its fine for you to let your preference be known to the business owner, and fine for you to decide to go elsewhere, but you were not being discriminated against, and claiming that your were sounds a bit whiny.

    If I had my own little shop, I would listen to whatever I wanted to listen to. I might consider changing it for a nice customer who asked politely, but I would be tempted to toss someone out on their ass if they demanded that I change it to something they liked and acted like I was victimizing them. Around here (FL) you’d likely get complaints for NOT having religious or Fox stuff on. Think I’d give in to that? Hell no.

    In a little shop like that, owners and workers listen to stuff to deal with the tedium, and while its certainly up to you to choose whether you want to deal with that, you have to give little businesses some slack. They are SUPPOSED to have their own individual personalities.

    Now, a different example would be a medical waiting room that has the TV always tuned to Fox. In that case, the noise is not meant to entertain bored workers, but is rather directed at you and flocks of other customers who may have to deal with it for HOURS. In that case, complaining is certainly in order, and a brick might be helpful too.

  36. freethinker1969 says

    I’d say he did the right thing. It’s a free country, if a business owner wants to mix religion and politics with his business, that’s up to them. If I want to go somewhere that doesn’t push that crap on me while I’m busy giving the guy money then that’s my business. I personally don’t go to businesses that push gods or Fox if I can help it.

  37. Bill Vincent says

    I’m of the live-and-let-live camp. Although I’m not religious, and most would classify me as agnostic, I would not have made an issue of it. I’d have likely sighed and rolled my eyes to myself, and read a magazine. As a private business owner, he’s free to play any radio station he chooses. He can even put up pictures of Jesus, or Muhammed, or Buddha, or lay out copies of Watchtower. Too many problems in our society are rooted in plain old intolerance. Tolerance is a two-way street. Many people think tolerance only means that everyone should respect their views, not the other way around.

  38. Chris Ho-Stuart says

    I don’t think it is an ethical issue at all.

    Every decision in the story, by either party, concerns a choice; but not one for which ethics is a consideration.

    The choice by the owner for what station to turn on in the first place concerns the ambience wanted in the waiting room.

    The choice by the customer to request a change is also about the desired ambience in the waiting room.

    The choice by the guy at the desk to keep the station as originally chosen is still not an ethical one. I don’t go along with the idea that there is some ethical obligation to to let other people’s wishes take precedence over your own, on a matter like this. The owner might have been listening to the station himself; or have other reasons for keeping that station. Perhaps he really does want to actively promote Christianity through his business. That is perfectly ethical.

    The customer’s comment about discrimination was stupid, in my opinion; but stupidity is not unethical.

    The customer’s choice to take business elsewhere is perfectly ethical as well; and one of which I approve, and would be inclined to make as well.

    When it comes to “publicizing”, consider what it is you want to publicize.

    For example, if you publically make a stink about “discrimination”, or about alleged ethical or legal obligations on the owner to rearrange their business as a matter of what is right — then you are being an “atheist fundamentalist”, and that’s rather off-putting.

    I know that’s not what Paul suggested! Paul’s advice in the final paragraph of the blog article, is very good.

    I think “fundamentalism” is not about religion at all, but about dogma and control. It just so happens that religion is particularly prone to fundamentalism; but much the same features can show up without religion, and it is perfectly sensible use of words to speak of “fundamentalism” in other contexts. In particular, trying to set up some ethical or legal “fundamental” as the basis for why the owner “should” avoid religious radio stations is going to come across as fundamentalism.

    It’s not a matter of being acquiessant! Paul’s suggestion is very sensible. Publicize your own choices. Be clear that you consider Christians radio to be inane, and off-putting; and that you personally find it repellent. Sufficiently repellent for you to be repelled from a business that chooses to play it. It’s not a big deal; but that’s your choice; which a business is free to take into account or not. And if enough people express that view, it becomes an important economic consideration for a business as well.

    Cheers — Chris

  39. MikeinJapan says

    I don’t mind the religious aspect of it (just like I don’t mind when people smoke around me), but the fact that a business owner doesn’t see to it that his customers are satisfied is just biting the hand that feeds. Imagine going to a shop where the checkout clerk is blowing smoke in your face and refuses to stop. Would you go there again?

  40. Benjamin Franz says

    There is a fine line here. You were in a privately owned business. He is completely within his rights to listen anything (religious or not) he wishes to. It’s his place and you are not forced to be there (note that I am not talking about similar places owned by DMV or something – that is a different situation involving the establishment clause). You have alternative places (many) you can go.

    You are within your rights to ask if he would change the channel. But he is also within his rights to refuse. You are then within your rights to take your business elsewhere if you so desire.

    I feel you were overly aggressive. Consider if the positions had been reversed: How would you have felt if a Christian came into your business and demanded that you change the channel from PBS and its “atheistic junk”? Would you have felt you had an obligation not to offend him? Or would you have told him, “No”?

  41. Azkyroth says

    I used to take a book to read while my old car was on the emissions testing juggernaut machine thing.


    I imagine what you mean is a dynamometer.

    Personally, I wouldn’t complain. A truly tolerant society must accept the differences of others — even Christian-run auto shops.


    Hmm, let me see…oh, dear. Help me out, please. I’ve scanned this page several times and I’m not seeing a sense of usage for “pretending not to even HAVE an opinion.” Ditto for “meekly shutting up due to one’s views being the minority.” Help me out here, please?

    I think the writer handled it appropriately and I find it deeply disturbing both that this car shop guy is perfectly willing to ignore the basic rules of customer service where his religion is concerned and that so many people who are supposed to be smarter than bricks think that “being allowed to” is a valid *ethical* argument.

  42. says

    Rule of business if you want repeat business. – “The customer is always right.”

    The guy behind the counter essentially made a business decision when he would not change the channel at the request of his customer. Therefore the customer made a business decision to take their business elsewhere.

  43. MikeinJapan says

    To add, a customer/seller relationship is not equal. It is his job to satisfy YOU, not the other way around. By the way some businesses treat their customers in the states I’m surprised (and a little sorry) they are still in business.

  44. Andrew says

    A Christian radio station wouldn’t really bother me as much as Rush Limbaugh or Michael “Savage” Wiener, so I probably wouldn’t have complained in this situation. However, I see no problem in complaining politely. If the owner wants to have a customer-friendly store, he would be wise to put rather mundane customer requests like this first.

    But he’s under absolutely no legal obligation to do so. It’s his store, and he can have whatever radio station he wants on, and your reader can go to just about any garage to have an inspection done.

    The owner’s definitely a moron, not because of the Christian music station, but because he feels like driving customers away. At the garage where I always get my regular maintenance done, their waiting room just has a cable TV, and if you’re the only person in there, you have free reign to watch what you want. It’s all about making the atmosphere as nice for the customers as possible.

    So, your reader was right to complain, though she was wrong about there being anything discriminatory (legally) in his refusal to change the station, but the owner’s an idiot if he thinks he can run a high-competition business (state inspections aren’t exactly engine overhauls) while refusing mundane requests from his customers.

    Let’s just leave out the whole religion/politics thing for a second, though. If this were a record store, and they had loud heavy metal playing, and the guy refused to turn it to smooth jazz while you were shopping, is he illegally discriminating against non-heavy metal listeners? No, and if you don’t like hearing that loud music while you shop, just go to a different music store that’s more to your liking.

  45. Stogoe says

    If you’re not even willing to entertain the notion of asking the proprietor to perhaps change the station to something less odious to you (the Customer), then frankly, you’re less useful than those silly post-modernists (who let their minds open so far their brains ran away). Fie on you, and shame.

  46. Christian Burnham says


    Being an atheist isn’t about being ‘useful’ or campaigning or proselytizing or kicking up a fuss, though some atheists do all or some of the above.

    An atheist is someone who doesn’t happen to believe in God/gods. They’re under no special obligation to join a protest group or sign their name or vote in any particular way.

    Some atheists make the choice to be proactive. Some don’t. Just like some black people join a civil-rights movement, whereas other black people stay at home and watch TV.

  47. says

    Oh, please. This whole situation was totally a mountain being made out of the proverbial molehill. If the owner won’t turn the radio to a different station after a single request, the can either forget about it or take his business elsewhere if it really bothers him that much. Playing that station is not necessarily “evangelizing.” The owner might just like it and honestly not understand why it would irritate anyone. Life’s too short to get all righteously indignant about something like this.

    And publicize this incident? Please. Again, mountain out of a molehill. I agree with Gabe. A big fuss was made over nothing.

  48. Brian Wilson says

    I think PZ and Andrew (and those who posted things along the same lines) are correct.

    There’s nothing remotely discriminatory or unethical about what the guy working for the auto-shop did. What he did was an incredibly stupid thing to do business-wise but that’s about it.

  49. lydia says

    The owner might just like it and honestly not understand why it would irritate anyone.

    Orac, I read Friday Dose of Woo every week, and I expect more sense out of you.

    This is the exact reason why people need to *say* something, preferably politely. If a person does not understand that there are people in the world who are not Christian, do not agree, are downright offended by some of the crap prosletyzers spew, not to mention being denied rights under the law – that in and of itself is a reason to speak up. Otherwise (giving the benefit of the doubt that this person is not willfully trying to offend and hurt other people) how will he ever realize that other people think differently?

  50. says

    Agree with others here that no wrong was made by anybody. As a private business, the guy had every right to hear whatever radio station he likes. As a customer, the writer is free to take their business elsewhere, for whatever reason they feel like. The business owner will have to accept the loss of a customer as a consequence of their choice; the customer will have to accept the inconvenience of finding a different business as a consequence of theirs.

    At my previous home there was a pretty good shoemaker and shoe repair shop just around the corner. Reasonable prices, fast turnaround – an propaganda brochures and posters for a far right-wing party prominently displayed in the shop. He did not get my business, and lost quite a lot of other customers as well, to the point where (as I heard) he was behind on his rent and other expenses due to the slow business. Again, no wrong being made by anybody, just consequences of their actions.

  51. Olive says

    Don’t treat this any differently than you would any other sort of distasteful radio- that’s privileging religion as special. Maybe this person ~would take their business elsewhere if a car place played awful music or Republican propaganda, but they (probably?) wouldn’t tell the world about it.

    Taking it public will make them look completely nutters.

  52. says

    If something bugs you, say so. As long as you are respectful, I don’t see a problem here. I may not have done the same thing – perhaps many other people would have different reactions – but that’s the point. The “picayune stuff that makes atheists look bad” is the blanket stuff, lawsuits against “In God We Trust,” etc., not interpersonal communication that is situational and cannot be generalized about. I think this person did the right thing. (Personally I don’t like “In God We Trust” either but I have bigger fish to fry.)

    Quietly donate a copy of “The Demon-Haunted World” or “The God Delusion” to the local high school library.

    I’ve seen several “donate a book to the library” comments, here and on other sites, and I just want to state that it still costs the library money when you donate a book! (And it takes staff time for it to be catalogued, classified, and shelved.) It may be more effective to request that the library acquire a particular book. Most libraries have written policies about how members of the public can suggest acquisitions. Ask, first, and then suggest that you might donate the book. (The very book may have just been purchased and the reference librarian at the desk is not going to know that!)

  53. says

    The other option is to turn him in. You can’t play a radio in a place of business unless you have a contract with the source station.

    That does not really address the ethical dilemma, but it is fun and productive.

  54. bernarda says

    I love this, PZ has taken on another job, being what the British call an “Agony Aunt”. Good show. I don’t know what Ann Landers’ beliefs were, but I can see a column written by an atheist sort of Ann.

    As to Muzak, a registered trademark,


    big stores have gone far beyond the bland piped-in music. Today they can alter the sound to try to create a more money-spending attitude in their shoppers. This can change by time of day.

    Not only do stores do that, but they can pipe in odors in various sections and change the temperature to encouraging more buying. Sometimes they may want to create an atmosphere for the guinea pig, er shopper, to spend more time in the store, but at other times they may want the shopper to make quick decisions and leave to make room for new ones.

    So Muzak is far different than the radio listening in that small shop.

  55. Martha says

    I agree this is a matter of a person being offended, not one of being discriminated against. If I were the owner, I would be annoyed by a request to turn off my NPR (though would probably be more conciliatory).

    This scenario reminded me vaguely of the cab scene in the Big Lebowski. (I appologize in advance for the gratuitous use of expletives).


    Jesus, man, can you change the station?

    Fuck you man! You don’t like my fucking music, get your own fucking cab!

    I’ve had a–

    I pull over and kick your ass out, man!

    –had a rough night, and I hate the fucking Eagles, man–

    That’s it! Outta this fucking cab!

  56. Claire says

    I’m amused by the notion that “the customer is always right”. Apparently the folks who believe that live on a different planet than the one I’m on. Nice idea, though.

  57. Chris Ho-Stuart says

    The other option is to turn him in. You can’t play a radio in a place of business unless you have a contract with the source station.

    That does not really address the ethical dilemma, but it is fun and productive.

    Good grief. Is that really true? It sounds very weird; most radio stations would, I expect, LOVE to be broadcast as widely as possible.

    If it is true; it’s a poor choice of tactic! I think it might be counter productive. If you turn the guy in simply for not having a contract, what will he do? Just maybe he’ll get a contract. And then he’s locked in to that station.

    Cheers — Chris

  58. Jokermage says

    Here’s what I would have done:

    Usually, I’m not bothered by background noise. Growing up in my family you learn to shut out that kind of stuff. For this example, however, let’s assume that the radio or tv was annoying enough to make me uncomfortable.

    I would ask if the radio could be turned down or switched to another station (depending on the exact nature of annoyance).

    If the request was denied, and they hadn’t started work on my car, I’d ask for my keys back and leave. If they asked why, I’d tell them I wasn’t comfortable having my car worked on here and ask again for my keys.

    If the request was denied, but they had already started work, I would let them finish the bare minimum they needed to complete. I would then pay the bill and never return.

    The next step would be to find a more accommodating mechanic and make recommendations against the unfriendly shop. If you spread the word that Such-and-Such Auto Body isn’t a very comfortable or friendly business, you with have a much larger effect than getting into a spat with the clerk.

    This isn’t really about religion or politics, but about comfort. I used to take my car to one mechanic who always made me feel intimidated. It always felt like I was imposing on him. On a recommendation, I had an inspection done at a different mechanic, who was much friendlier. I do all my car stuff with the new mechanic now.

  59. Jokermage says

    Following my last post, I’d like to know the name and location of the mechanic in the story, so I know where not to go if I’m ever in that area and have car troubles. Any chance of acquiring that information?

  60. says

    I’m amused by the notion that “the customer is always right”. Apparently the folks who believe that live on a different planet than the one I’m on. Nice idea, though.

    Well, you know what they say, Claire–the problem with public-contact jobs is the public.

  61. phat says

    You know, this might actually be illegal. I think it might depend on the number of employees at the shop. I think federal law says something about 15 employees (or is it 50?). I don’t remember right now, public accomodation laws and all that. I would assume that the business has to be licensed by the state to provide these inspections. There may be state law that covers this, too.

    I don’t think the customer was being “discriminated against.” They were not being refused service based on their religious affiliation. However, the employees at the shop may have been, depending on certain circumstances.

    That being said, when I worked for my local ACLU chapter, the director once said something that was quite profound, I thought: “one of the best things about free speech is that it helps you figure out who the jackasses are.”

    I don’t know how I would have reacted to this situation. I am pretty sure I would never go there again. I can’t really take that garbage. It’s not so much about being offended, I guess. I just can’t take hearing people like Christian radio announcers talk. That kind of stupidity drives me up the wall. I suppose that’s being offended, in a way. But I think it’s more just being bothered in the way I’m bothered by finger nails on a chalkboard, or something…

    I do think it’s important to let the business know why you’re not going to be going to that business anymore.

    I suppose if the people on the radio were saying insulting things, “atheists are demonspawn”, “homosexuals will burn in hell”, and such, it would be different. That’s not “discrimination” but it is wrong and should be pointed out.

    Again, there are possible legal issues here. I’m not a lawyer, but I know a little bit about this stuff. I don’t really think this is against the law, but it is possible. The rules may be a bit arbitrary in some sense. But a lot of these rules are there for a reason. They are there to protect workers from undue harm in the workplace, not unlike OSHA regulations.

    Consider smoking bans. They have been able to pass because smoking has a bad effect on employees of businesses, not because of the customers at said businesses. I smoke and I support some of these bans. I couldn’t very well complain about auto emissions and being forced to breath the crap that comes from my local coal-fired power plant and not consider the impact of smoking in a bar. I certainly don’t have a right to force people who work in a bar to breath the smoke I give off, nor do the the owners of bars.

    This isn’t much different, in some ways.


  62. ben says

    I’m sorry, for a while I thought that the complaint was that a State Agency was doing it, but it turns out it’s a private business, and not one subject to monoplistic or rent-seeking restrictions, either, so you it’s not like you couldn’t go elsewhere.

    I think this is just flat-out impolite. I have no business barging into someone else’s home or place of work and telling them what they can or can’t listen to. If I drive in and they’re cranking Rush Limbaugh, I simply leave. SO LONG AS I CAN GO ELSEWHERE, yes, and don’t start with the whole pharmacy Plan-B analogy on me here — that dog won’t hunt, Monsigneur, this is just getting your car tuned.

  63. ssjessiechan says

    I agree with most of the other posters in that he wasn’t singling anybody out, he was listening to opinions that fit his viewpoint. I personally find religious programming to be quite amusing, but I have a strong inoculation being a recent convert to atheism. I find it quite enjoyable to think from the other side and try to keep myself in check, and I applaud the writer for seeking the opinion of others in a healthy round of navel-gazing. There’s nothing like questioning one’s opinions, actions, and assumptions to differentiate the thinking atheist from the dogmatic fool.

    I think that single choice of wording would be my only change. If it bothered the reader enough to complain, then it was making them uncomfortable. If they were bothered enough to leave the shop, then “shut up and listen” might be bad advice. I have had a similar experience recently, only it was my Kryptonite, Fox News. The waitress at this restaurant was stomping up and down trying to tell everybody how right the pundit was about, well, idiotic bigoted ideas. I could have ignored it but for the anger in his tones and the way she kept trying to engage me in some sort of act of ritual confirmation. I hadn’t had a more awkward lunch hour since High School. I now regret that I hadn’t stood up for myself. But for me, the issue wasn’t opinions and rights as much as it was about having a pleasant time. Though in the area I work, being liberal is like being, well, kind of like being an atheist. Except nobody cares about religion here. >_>

    In short, I should have stood up for my right to enjoy myself in a restaurant I frequent, and my opinions and my self-respect as a God-hating, baby-killing, tree-hugging intellectual. And did I mention I want the country to be overrun by Mexicans? Because I do. But by my not raising my voice and asking, my misery was my own fault. Maybe I saved a lot of trouble in the future because my business has close ties to the family that runs the restaurant, and she’s the owner’s mother in law, and we eat there very frequently. But is that worth not standing up for what I feel is right, in the face of blinding hateful ignorance? On this side of lunch I feel that it wasn’t.

    Oooh, first time brave enough to posties! <3

  64. csrster says

    I think your reader was being an ass. The guy wasn’t “proselytising” – he was listening to his preferred kind of music/talk while getting on with his job. If you find his choice of radio station intolerable you have a choice – take a walk while you wait, take your business elsewhere or plug into an mp3 player and drown the drivel out.

  65. Lazarou says

    Well I think you’re perfectly right to take your business elsewhere if you disagree about anything to do with the way a business is run and that includes what they play on the radio but the worker was in no way whatsoever discriminating against your reader. If anything it was the other way around, refusing what could have been the best inspection in town simply on the grounds of what was on the radio.

    Religious radio would annoy me as well (thankfully it seems to be thin on the ground in the UK) but I’m not about to go to the bother of taking my car to another garage because of it. That whole episode smacks of the kind of intolerance I’ve come to expect from the religious, how very disappointing.

  66. Louis says


    I’m gonna disagree.

    {Waits for wailing and gnashing of teeth. Dons sackcloth and ashes}

    Whilst I agree that atheists need to be more uppity, be heard more, be more visible etc, what we don’t need is to be really petty about insignificant shite.

    If the garage owner was “actively proselytising” that might be a different ball game. This guy way clearly just some regular Joe Church with his favourite station of GAWD on the radio. At best I would have been moved to mild guffawing and gentle sarcasm. But then I’m British!

    The only problem I have is that some of our religious chums don’t do we irreligious lot the same courtesy. If we want to watch a play or see an art exhibit that (no matter its potentially dubious artistic merit) might “offend” some religion or other, we have to wade through placards and yelling godsters. I’m happy to get my tyres changed by a christian with a radio on full blast spewing forth Ted Haggard telling me about how he is in no way all about the cock. Just like I am happy to get my tyres changed by the Britney Spears listening Spice Girl wannabe transsexual. I don’t have to like and or agree with their every expression, it’s just irrelevant. IF the garage owner’s musical tastes were such a deciding factor in my use of his services I’d simply go elsewhere, and in fact this is exactly what I do. Complaining about HIS choice of radio station in HIS place of business is futile at best, as long as he is contravening no laws.

    I’ve got no problem with religious people expressing themselves in these relatively innocent ways, just as I hope they have no issue with me expressing myself in similar relatively innocent ways. What I DO have a problem with is religious people expecting to both have their cake and eat it, if they wish freedom of expression, then good, so do I. Just keep in mind that sometimes you are not going to like my freedom of expression, just like I don’t like yours. The thing to do is shut up and deal with it, not picket, ban, campaign or terrorise.


  67. says

    “Discrimination” is a loaded word. I don’t think the person was discriminated against. If the owner only serves to white people, or only to Christians or only to men… that’s discrimination. Take an iPod next time.

  68. Caledonian says

    When people wonder if they’re being “rude” by taking their business elsewhere, I shudder at the future of this society.

  69. Randy! says

    Gah! I read through this entire thread and didn’t see anyone mention the obvious problem with PZ’s suggestion. You write a letter to the editor or otherwise publicize that this car inspector plays a Christian station in his shop and you were offended, that guy will be absolutely flooded with Christian customers in support of his woo.

    The consensus around here seems to be that the shop owner is certainly entitled to listen to whatever he wants and the customer is entitled to leave. I think that is fairly obvious to most of us.

    Personally, I *never* use the services of any business with a fish in their advertising. At my place of employment, a large state agency, I occasionally come across religious propaganda placed in the break room. Flyers for some woo-leader who will be “speaking” at some church or whatever. I sweep that junk up and put it into the trash.

  70. xebecs says

    While the owner of the shop was within his rights (unless his own employees complained, possibly?) I would certainly have done the same thing the writer did — complain, and then leave. I hate that stuff, and I particularly hate having no choice but to listen to it — makes me feel trapped.

    One thing: Please, be careful throwing around the word “discrimination”. It rarely applies, and it really does sound like whining. Let’s save it for real problems like red-lining, shall we?

  71. says

    Stuff like this makes me embarrassed to be an atheist in America. It’s a radio station. There are far more important things in life. The car guy wasn’t preventing you from being able to do anything. My opinion: get over it.

  72. says

    I think many people are missing the main problem.

    That shop owner probably sits there thinking everyone likes Christian radio, and that he’s doing everyone a favor. Everyone who says you should just sit down and enjoy the funny evangelists and not say anything is helping him maintain his illusion that he lives in a pure Christian community. You are enabling their blind, oblivious bigotry.

    I think the person in this story was doing everything exactly right, except for the bit about fretting over whether she was prejudiced. If you’re godless, consider it your obligation to speak out now and then and make others aware that they are not living in a Christian monoculture. Don’t be thinskinned, don’t be angry, don’t over-react, but do let them know politely that you find their proselytizing irritating.

    If you don’t find it irritating but funny, there’s another option available to you. Laugh. Make comments to the owner about the absurdity of the claim you just heard the radio evangelist make. Make the owner uncomfortable with the fact that he’s opened the door to letting customers mock his religion.

    But whatever you do, DON’T JUST SIT THERE SILENTLY. Jebus. This is why we get ignored and treated as negligible, because we can’t even be bothered to let people know we exist.

  73. David Livesay says

    As I see it, you didn’t leave because the owner of the business is Christian; you left because you didn’t like what was on the radio in the customer waiting area.

    The owner’s attitude seems to be that the customers have to listen to whatever he wants to play while they wait for their cars. He’s not concerned with catering to their wishes or being sensitive to their preferences. That reflects an attitude toward the customer that I, for one, have no desire to patronize. If a business isn’t all about sucking up to me, making me feel comfortable, bending over backwards to please me, they don’t get my business.

    So this really isn’t about religion. It’s about whether this guy values customer satisfaction. Clearly he does not. It’s all about him and what he wants, so screw him. Take your business to someone who values it.

  74. mndean says

    I would love to know what some of the sheep here would have done in a situation I encountered:

    I was called for jury duty, and in the prospective juror’s waiting room(s) were a number of televisions which were all tuned to Fox News (one tuner controlled all the sets), which apparently was the choice of the courthouse workers in that room. I complained that I found it offensive and made them change the channel. After doing my duty on a long and grueling trial, I wrote a complaint about the jury room and along with a health issue I brought up with a doctor’s note, I got a permanent, lifetime excuse from jury duty!

    Sometimes it pays to complain.

  75. Caledonian says

    How is it that an entire culture becomes convinced it’s entitled to everything except the things it’s actually entitled to?

    If the music bothers you that much, don’t patronize the business. If the business is something you really want or need, learn to tolerate the music.

    Just don’t expect others to back you up with reassurance about how enlightened and tolerant you are. Questions that reduce to “am I a good person?” are usually only asked for one reason.

  76. Erasmus says

    I’m as godless as anyone but this sounds like a whiny complaint. Rather than expecting people to act civilized blah blah, Ridicule Them.

    Seriously, no one like that is going to want to hear you mock their Gawds. So enjoy it. How hard is it to make christian radio sound stupid?

  77. John B says

    I don’t know if it’s a cultural difference, or what, but I’m surprised anyone can see this as anything but intolerance. If you can’t stand to hear a Christian radio station, and feel the need to silence it, what are you but intolerant? Maybe the word is being used in some special way, here. To me, if you can’t tolerate something, if it has to stop or you have to leave, you’re intolerant.

    I’m starting to believe PZ’s claims about the persecution of atheists in american culture, just based on the reactions to this story, how quickly rights language is brought into play over what people should listen to in private. No one could be this sensitive and defensive unless it had been made very clear to them in the past that they don’t belong. The insecurity has to be very high if you cannot let the little things slide, if you have to demand your rights at every point, if private difference is offensive. Someone has made it very clear to you that there is only one correct way to be, and you are not it.

    For some reason, I still think of the states as a secular society, but obviously it is not. Whether right or wrong, rude or fair, I think this situation is tragic. If this is your battleground, day-to-day inability to interact with people who are different, then I haven’t been taking the idea of a Culture War in your country seriously enough.

  78. says

    Now, the music was in the waiting room. Does that room also include the desk? If the room was a separate room, ie. I had to listen to it while he couldn’t even hear it, I would probably insist on changing it. If he was simply choosing to listen to it, I would probably make comments about the broadcast that I disagree with. After all, if the radio station is there to make the time to by faster, then I’d think an conversation/argument over the radio content would certainly advance that intent.

  79. jimmiraybob says

    If I owned a business and had NPR on and a Chrisian customer asked me to turn it off or switch to a non-liberal station I would probably engage in what I’m sure would become an interesting discussion but I certainly wouldn’t turn away from the NPR station. I’d likely lose a customer but that’s the way it goes.

  80. Jakanapes says


    Nobody was tied down and forced to listen to anything. If you don’t like the music being played, don’t go there. It’s not discriminatory, it may be poor customer relations, but this ain’t bigotry and prejudice, it’s preference.

    Discrimination would be: “This shop does not service atheist’s cars”.

    I don’t like sports, so I don’t go to places that play sports radio. When they refuse to change the channel just for little ol’ me, that’s not discrimination. They’ll still serve me.

    Honestly, when I worked in a sub shop in college if someone had come sobbing to me about being discriminated against because they found alt-rock offensive, I would have explained that it was what the rest of the customers liked and the employees liked. Then I would have laughed at them after they left for being oversensitive whiners.

    Bottom line.

    It’s his business, he can play what he wants.

    They’re your dollars, you can spend them where you want.

    America is partially about freedom of choice. Choose to go somewhere else. There are a number of businesses that I choose not to go to, for a variety of reasons. And some of those reasons are the religious overtones in place at some of those businesses.

    There’s a huge gap between being meekly passive and being a bundle of exposed nerves.

    Discrimination is a serious problem and doesn’t need to be trivialized to the point of making the word meaningless.

  81. says

    That shop owner probably sits there thinking everyone likes Christian radio, and that he’s doing everyone a favor.

    Or maybe he just sits there thinking it’s HIS business where he spends upwards of 40 hours a week and HE’LL listen to what HE likes.

    I call intolerance on the part of the whining athiest, not the shop owner.

    This is exactly the problem the right-wing Christoids complain about: that religion is being pushed into the closet by intolerant secularists. I usually disagree with that argument. But because this guy was on his own property, in his own business, and still someone finds a reason to complain about religion being talked about within earshot, the Christoids would be right in this case.

    That business about “the customer is always right” or “this is about comfort” is just b.s. This is really about an athiest who cannot tolerate another private citizen’s religion trying to push her views on him, using her status as a customer as an excuse.

  82. yoshi says

    I’ve noticed in the last few years an increasing ‘intolerance’ (how i hate that word) to very minor actions such as a radio station being played in a waiting room. Reading through this story I was convinced that by the end of it there would be a lawsuit by the customer against the shop owner. Have I really gotten that cynical?

  83. Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD says

    There’s 2 other possible solutions.

    Have an iPod handy… living in NYC there’s lots of things I’d rather tune out than engage.
    Like the person singing badly to their own iPod, the guy preaching at the other end of the subway car, the weird guy clipping his nails or the two guys talking about their time at Rikers.

    Earbuds can save you from lots of aural unpleasantness.

    The second option is old school. Bring your own boombox in with you… play the audio book version of the God Delusion just loud enough so that you can’t hear the christian station.

  84. factlike says

    Add my twopence to the chorus of disagreement. Let’s place the shoe on the other foot here, and say that Joe Atheist the mechanic was working on cars, listening to some good old fashioned rock ‘n roll — let’s say Exile on Main Street, by the Rolling Stones. Suddenly, Chris the Christian steps up and says, “Excuse me, sir. I do not appreciate your choice of music. Please change it to the non-offensive KGOD Christian music network.” Joe politely refuses. Chris continues, “But surely not all of your clients are fans of the Rolling Stones. Some are morally concerned citizens, who do not appreciate the driving backbeat, which is the very hallmark of the devil’s music! This music prostelytizes promiscuity! It tells innocent, uninformed people that it’s OK to snort their fathers! The Rolling Stones DISCRIMINATES against me!”

    If you were Joe, would you change the station? I certainly hope not. Although I find PZ correct in saying that we atheists must stand up for ourselves loudly and unapologetically, we must take care that we not come off as silly prigs.

  85. steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD says

    By the way, I find christian radio hysterical. I probably would of just laughed and laughed.
    That would probably annoy the owner more.

  86. Louis says


    I agree that we atheists have to be vocal and visible, and definitely MORE vocal and visible than we are being. I don’t agree that this is the way to do it. Especially as my deep loathing of musak would keep me out of all stores worldwide! ;-)


  87. natasha says

    I’m not one for arguing with an owner/employee; their place, they can do as they wish. But I do let them know on my way out the door why they aren’t getting my business:
    MOI: I don’t patronize places that serve “Freedom Fries.” That term offends me.

    LES: Huh??
    ME: I’m not getting my oil changed here because you have Rush Limbaugh playing on your radio.

    THEM: Huh??
    Probably not effective, but just think if everyone did it? Why… we could start a movement! maybe… maybe not…

  88. MartinC says

    What a wuss! Making such a fuss over 30 minutes of crappy christian radio station music. He had it easy, let me tell you. Just last week I had to put up with 40 minutes of “Chaconne” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor, while waiting for a friend at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, played by some tall Beatles lookalike in a baseball cap. I told him to give it up and get a proper job.
    Seriously, this complainer sounds like the sort of person I am constantly getting stuck in the next seat to while on transatlantic flights (you know the sort of neighbor that makes you search for an ejector seat button)

  89. Matt M says

    To me this situation is identical to having Rap music played in the waiting room, or opera, or a poorly tuned radio turned up too loud. It is unpleasant and distracting. Likewise, daytime TV of almost any sort gets my back up.

    My solutions are (1) “That is unpleasant, man, can you turn it down or off?, (2) Get up and go for a walk, or (3) Take your business away right away.

  90. says

    If I had a shop where I played my obnoxious music, and one customer expressed dissatisfaction, I’d tell them they’re free to take their business elsewhere.

    If ten customers complained, I’d wonder if maybe I really was being too rude to the people.

    That’s really what this is about — it’s not about punishing the shop owner, or venting, or making Christians suffer. It’s about a neglected demographic simply making their existence known, so that maybe someone will appreciate our point of view. Let the shop owner know that his livelihood does depend to some small extent on people who don’t go to church every sunday.

  91. says

    You need to get over yourself–“you” being the person with the supposed ethical problem. You go into someone else’s place of business and begin complaining? You’re not a wuss–you’re a prima donna who thinks the world revolves around you.

    Spoken, by the way, as a non-Christian specifically and a non-believer generally.

  92. Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD says

    What if the person had some right-winger on spewing racist new world order crap.

    Asking someone to turn it down, change the channel or just off, is your perogative.

    Having an opinion is not wrong. Sharing it is not wrong. They can choose to ignore it meet you half way or say screw you.

    But there’s nothing wrong with expressing it. You’re not an asshole for doing so.

  93. Jamey Dee says

    Similarly, only political rather religious in context, after the war started, I went to a restaurant where they had their menus reprinted to say “freedom fries” rather than “french fries.” I used my Bic ballpoint, neatly edited the menus at the table, and left a suggestion card noting that I would prefer politics not enter the cuisine listing and that I would take my dining elsewhere in the future.

  94. Benjamin Franz says

    SLC: You need to tune up your humor detector. MartinC was perfectly aware. He was making a topical joke.

  95. Gray Lensman says

    I was recently spending a couple of hours in a hospital wating room while my wife had some outpatient eye surgery. Fox Noise was playing on the teevee. There were three other people in the room at 7:00 and I asked if anyone would object if I turned off the teevee. I was amused that all three thanked me for the idea.

    I’ve been an atheist since 1957. I have always observed George Carlin’s 11th
    Commandment: Keep thy religion (or lack thereof) to thyself. If someone wants to discuss it, I will. Otherwise I keep my own opinions to myself. Evangelizing is simply bad manners.

  96. speedwell says

    That’s really what this is about — it’s not about punishing the shop owner, or venting, or making Christians suffer. It’s about a neglected demographic simply making their existence known, so that maybe someone will appreciate our point of view. Let the shop owner know that his livelihood does depend to some small extent on people who don’t go to church every sunday.

    Actually, it’s about a larger issue. It’s purely and simply about whether someone should feel obliged to shut up and sit down and take whatever crap a business hands him, just to be a nice guy. It doesn’t matter if he is a member of a persecuted minority or not. It only matters that he’s a customer and is uncomfortable enough to take his business elsewhere. That’s the way the free market should work.

    That said, I personally like all sorts of music; I once planned to be a full-fledged minister of music–I still hum hymn tunes, enjoying the tang of atheist irony right along with the fine old melodies. I would probably annoy the shop owner more than he could possibly annoy me, just by singing along with the radio. Loud. In harmony.

    OK, that’s an idea. Have fun with it. Fight fire with fire. Change the words to something silly or even irrelevant. Sing them out loud. Why ruin a catchy tune with misplaced theology?

  97. says

    The shop owner can play whatever he wants. The customer can make any request he wants, and can take his business wherever for any reason.

    There’s no other issues here. If the shop owner really wants your business, he’ll accommodate reasonable requests. If not, he doesn’t deserve the business. That’s it, end of story.

  98. joeski says

    More Biology, less intolerance!! This private businessman, probably a Christian, is listening to a Christian station. If the desk attendant were black, listening to a black station, and I politely inform him that not all his customers are black, would you support me ethically if I ask him to change the station?


  99. Robert says

    I do think that the business has the right to play whatever they want. If the customers don’t like it, then they can take their business elsewhere, and if enough of them do it then perhaps the business will change.

    But really, working sucks a good percentage of the time, and it helps to be able to listen to something that gets you through the day. The radio is there for the employees, and unless it really and truly is offensive (like openly advocating taking children away from atheist parents or something) I would just deal with it. Its just a small act of kindness from one human being to another.

  100. says

    I have to listen to the rubbish people talk all day at me. I tolerate it, am polite and get on with my day. I think you’re a chump for challenging it, how long were you going to be in there for? a half hour? Less?

    It’s people like you that depress me, there are bigger things to worry about than what someones radio is tuned to.

    Stop being so petty and start being more tolerant.

  101. markbt73 says

    I’d have left. Not because I was offended, but because I wouldn’t trust someone with such deep delusions to work on my car. If you don’t have a scientific mind, you don’t get to touch my technology. I don’t want “fath-based” auto repair.

    (I’m trying to be a bit clever, but I’m totally serious.)

  102. Nicholas says

    I think commenters are missing out on a few important points. I’ve managed quite a few businesses, all of which were very successful (after I took over, at least). As I see things:

    – The customer and the customer service representative are not equals. So long as that customer is a potentially paying customer their name changes to “God” the moment they walk in the door. If someone says that they are unhappy with my ‘godless’ rock and roll and asks me to turn on KGOD I may mentally roll my eyes, but to them I simply apologize politely for the inconvenience and turn the radio off for the duration of their stay. That’s how a free market works. My comfort or the tedious nature of my work is irrelevant. It’s not my job to be comfortable; it’s my job to make the customer comfortable. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but as a customer service rep I’m not entitled to express mine. I actually did turn a movie off due to a complaint back when I was working at a video store. To this day I’m not sure what was offensive about it, but it wasn’t my job to understand; just react.

    – If the clerk was good at their job there would not likely be much time for ‘tedious’ work. They would be welcoming the customer, interacting with them, engaging them in conversation, and making them feel like a friend. Again, that’s their job. It’s amazing what customer service has come to these days. Back when I was last in retail management in the late 90s if one of my workers let the customer initiate contact, instead of greeting them enthusiastically the moment they came in the door, I would have happily fired them. That’s beyond just poor customer service. If it’s your job to do tedious work instead of working with customers you should be doing it in a back room. If you have to do it in the waiting room you sit their quietly and shut up; you’re getting paid while the customers are not. It’s not your job to be comfortable.

    – For those who say you should just leave without confrontation, let me tell you how annoying that is for (good) business owners/managers. If we lose customers and we don’t know why, we have to spend hours researching and testing, attempting to figure out the problem so we can fix it, not to mention the lost income until we figure it out. Not only has your decision not to mention the issue caused undue extra work for us, but all those who agree with you are also being constantly annoyed at my place of business. What benefit comes from that choice to offset all of that: you save thirty seconds of politely explaining your discomfort. That hardly seems efficient; which I think is enough to call it unethical.

    – It’s not the customers’ job to worry about discrimination, ethics, or morality when they are patronizing a business. It’s their job to be comfortable and happy. If they are not comfortable or happy they should explain why to the business owner. If the problem isn’t fixed they should no longer patronize the business. That’s it. Ethics doesn’t enter into it. It’s the business’ job to make the customer happy; if they fail to do that then it’s the customers’ job to ‘hire’ a new business who can actually do the job. Any customer who does not notify a business when they are not comfortable, or who does not seek out a business that provides reasonable customer service, is causing a drop in the efficiency of the system.

    I think the situation was handled relatively well with a few exceptions. As pointed out, it wasn’t really discrimination or proselytizing, unless the radio station was some truly awful talk radio. If the car was already in there I personally would have waited patiently and brought the issue up before leaving (the last thing I need is a scratch running down the side of my $40k sports car). Though in most businesses, those that can’t hurt me directly, my preferred method would probably be to simply snicker and laugh a bit and then ask if they could turn it up. I would also make a point of asking what station it was and if it was a parody or comedy station. Yeah, I know, I’m cruel. ;)

    The owner was entitled to his opinions and beliefs, but if he was in the waiting room then the radio was on solely for the comfort and enjoyment of the customer. If this guy thinks he deserves to be comfortable at the expense of the customer he should be locked up in a cubicle cause he certainly has no place in a competitive marketplace. Unless, of course, customers stop making buying decisions based on service and stop complaining about things that make them unhappy; then every customer service business can become equally crappy. I sad state that we are unfortunately already on our way to. :(

    So my final say would be:
    Customer: Exaggerating with the whole ‘persecution complex’, but not wrong
    Business Owner: Absolutely completely wrong. Deserves to be the main character in a comic strip for retail workers entitled: How to Get Fired and Destroy A Business.

    Hey, look, I finally made a post after a solid half year of reading! Woohoo! :)

  103. J Daley says

    Yet another reason I ride a bicycle everywhere. While there are some aggravations cyclists have to deal with (inclement weather, SUVs) there are a whole lot we don’t.

  104. GeorgeBurnsGod says

    I think I may have found the shop owner’s album collection. They get better as you scroll down.


    My personal favorites:

    1. time out…to praise the lord (the lions rock!)
    2. Kenny Loves Jesus
    3. “I’ve Got Confidence” (looking very apprehensive)
    4. I Eat Kids and Other Songs for Rebellious Children
    5. Jesus Use Me by Little Richard Miller
    6. Jogging for Jesus (in boots)

  105. says

    The guy who complained about the radio station at the garage was out of line.

    It was perfectly reasonable for him to ask the station to be changed, and it was perfectly reasonable for the owner of the garage to refuse to change it. And that where it should have stopped. If the guy really couldn’t stand the Christian radio station, he had every right to take his business elsewhere, which he did.

    He was not being discriminated against, any more than he is being discriminated against when someone says Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah to him. The owner of a private business can play whatever music he wants. A government building is another matter, but that is not the case here.

    If he said, “I simply find Christian music unpleasant,” the owner probably would have changed it. Instead, he made his objection about religion, and got the guy’s back up.

    The garage owner has a lousy business sense. But both parties exhibited poor manners.

  106. Robert says

    I also have to say that I think the ideas that “the customer is always right” or “the customer is god” are possibly some of the worst ideas I have heard outside of religion. The customer is not always right. The concept that the customer is always right has been used as an excuse of idiots and assholes to walk all over decent and hardworking people. I have worked many jobs, and in every one that involved customer service I saw management bending over backwards to accomodate assholes, blowhards, and fools at the expense of their own employees and other customers who actually are polite and decent.

    When I ran a laser engraving shop I wouldn’t put up with crap from people. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t put the customer first, but if they became loud, abusive, or were just plain wrong and being stubborn and holding up the line then I would put my foot down (try being nice to a guy who thinks you’re refusing his business because the FDA has gotten to you and is trying to prevent his miracle magnet technology from being released. Eventually you have to tell him to shut up and leave.) They can take their business elsewhere and the rest of my customers can enjoy my business in peace.

  107. Woodwose says

    Listening to a Christer station is a specific example of a larger societal issue.

    For years I have been intolerant of the public imposition of music. This includes Muzak, local radio stations, and owner-created repeating tapes and discs in waiting rooms, hospital pre-ops, restaurants and shops. Generally it’s too loud, cloying or just bad. I generally ask the person “at the desk” to turn it down or off. They usually comply.

    However you have to respect their game plan. If you are not the demographic that supplies the most of their business and everyone else in the room is snapping fingers and tapping toes (or “praise the lording”), losing you and keeping the others will pay off better. If it’s just you and the owner/staff, you’re paying the rent and you’ll probably get your way.

    Stay or leave, you win both ways. Go, and you get the work done at another shop which better reflects your life style, the sweet bliss of confirmed road worthiness without Muzak or evangelicals. Stay and you get the work done without having to find a second option shop, or a third if the background noise is endemic in your town, and you have a party story to tell for months to come.

    Most important is not to erode too much of the lining of your stomach by getting upset over the small stuff.

  108. says

    The customer and the customer service representative are not equals.

    But the customer and the business owner are. They’re equally empowered to decide what they’re willing to tolerate from one another in order to conduct business. Business owners don’t have to kiss every whining customer’s ass, nor should they.

    In this case, the customer was dealing directly with the business owner, who is free to decide whether or not it’s worth his while to accommodate customer radio station requests. He obviously didn’t care about losing her business, and that’s his choice.

  109. Robert says

    Also, one of the best managers I ever had when I worked as a cook in a seafood restaurant had the philosophy “take care of your employees, and they will take care of your business.” He said that pretty much the only time he ever intervened between a customer and an employee it was usually to back up the employee (yes sometimes the employee steps out of line, but not nearly as often as the customers). An example, a customer complained to him that an employee asked him to leave (he was loud and belligerent), my manager replied to him “then what the hell are you still doing here?”

    Did this behavior effect the success of the business? Yes, it improved the atmosphere immensely. Bottom line: People can be assholes, and “the customer is always right” makes them think they are entitled to be assholes.

  110. doug says

    During the last federal election here in Canada, the laundromat I go to had a sign for a political candidate who I don’t support, but I didn’t ask them to take it down, since it had absolutely nothing to do with how clean my laundry would be when I left the place.

    I didn’t read the comments here, so maybe what I’m about to say has already been hashed over, but I think the guy can play whatever he wants on the radio in his store. If you are made uncomfortable by it, it would probably be better to go to another store. Asking him to change the station is fine, but he’s under no obligation to comply. Personally, I sympathize with your discomfort, but if I had been there as a bystander, I’d probably have thought you were making a scene.

  111. Dennis Lynch says

    Some time back I went into a Menard’s Harwdware store. While waiting in the checkout line, I was bombarded with a looped video of Menard’s commercials, cranked to an annoyingly loud scream.
    Being tall, it was no problem to reach up and turn the volume all the way down.
    The action was met with applause from the other dozen customers standing around. The clerk looked at me and mouthe a heartfelt “Thank You!” She, as an employee, had been forced to listen to the noise for hours by company policy.
    Some months later, I noticed that the TVs had been entirely removed from the checkout area.
    My feeling was that I was already there as a customer. I din’t need the annoyance, the insistant urging that I had to buy other products, too.

  112. says

    Cracking up at #88.

    There’s a discount eyeglasses place in Des Moines I’ve been quietly boycotting since 2004. (It’s not a huge deal–I don’t need glasses that often, but when I do, I go somewhere else.) It was right after Fahrenheit 9/11 came out, and when I went to pick up my specs, I could hear Limbaugh on the radio in the back room. The proprietor came out and gave me my glasses, then, out of the blue, he started trying to feed me the same Limbaugh shit he’d been eating, to wit:

    Proprietor: Can you believe how much that Michael Moore lies?
    Dono: Pardon?
    Proprietor: Yeah, all he does is tell lies. Can you imagine if he’d said those things during World War II?
    Dono: Uh–I’m pretty sure Michael Moore wasn’t alive during World War II.
    Proprietor: (look of puzzlement)

    Since I’d already paid for the glasses, I figured I’d make my exit while the guy’s brain was still catching up with the joke.

  113. says

    what is the state of the world at the end of the day?
    the inspection station owner did not have his mind changed.
    The customer did not have his mind changed
    the customer probably wont do business there again

    those 3 outcomes would not change if the customer said nothing and either left immediately or just did not go back again.

    but as it was handled, both parties are now feeling a bit of unresolved antagonism toward each other, which they will probably be unable to keep from affecting how they deal with others who had no part in the transaction, just a little increment of free floating animosity and lowered expectations.

    You can see how I would have handled it?

  114. Opisthokont says

    I was once in a tiny airport in Wisconsin, waiting for a flight for over four hours. Every one of the video monitors there was showing Fox News. I had never actually watched it before; I found it about as fascinating as infuriating (lots of both). Were my curiosity not engaged, and were there not other things with which to distract myself, I might well have complained (this is a public space, after all, not a private business), but as it was, I thought the educational experience outweighed the annoyance. I could well have acted differently if I were in a different mood, though.

    As to the situation described above, I do not disagree with either party’s actions. I would emphasise, however, that I would not see this as an issue of discrimination. Probably, if it irritated me enough, I would ask that the station be changed, and if it were not, I might leave, but I would not make a big deal over it.

  115. Nicholas says

    But the customer and the business owner are. They’re equally empowered to decide what they’re willing to tolerate from one another in order to conduct business. Business owners don’t have to kiss every whining customer’s ass, nor should they.

    If we’re speaking legally then you are correct; there is no obligation for the owner to take action. However, the question seemed to be more centered around if he should have reacted the way he did and not whether it was legal or not. As such, I was explaining that from a business perspective, they are not equals. And from a business perspective, whether the guy behind the counter is a minimum wage worker, the owner, or the pope, if he is working directly with you (the customer) and representing the business, that makes him a customer service representative. The fact that he was the owner only meant he was directly in line to lose something if dealings did not go well, which is why the most polite, courteous, and helpful reps usually turn out to be the owners or managers if you check.

    While I agree that if a customer is being a nuisance to other customers, their actions should be curtailed. But this has nothing to do with ethics, just good business sense (again). 98% of the time you will maximize your profits by treating all dealings as though your customer is a god. In the other 2% of cases I would fully support removing the customer. The emailer was not instigating, yelling, or causing problems for other customers. He made a quiet and courteous request to change the channel. He possibly went a bit far in doing so, but the only reason it got to the point where he erroneously called it discrimination is because the owner made an amazingly poor business decision first; the owner was the root cause.

    what is the state of the world at the end of the day?

    You forgot to mention the one other, extremely important, thing that came out of this. The business owner knows that this annoys a minimum of 1 customer. Generally, for every customer that complains, there are quite a few more who have been equally annoyed and said nothing. This owner may not have cared about that information, but it was still important that it was imparted to him because:

    1. If others do the same thing and walk out, and he notices his income getting tight (or notices his competitor’s new Corvette), he may start to say “Hey, maybe this is really impacting my business. I should change things.” Knowing this makes it the only ethical choice as now this customer can at least say he gave the business owner the tools needed to avoid losing their business over it. Considering how poorly most businesses are run, and consequently how small their actual profit is, something as small as this could easily push a borderline business over the edge.

    2. Whether this owner cared or not is irrelevant, because that information was not known before the complaint. Statistically, you’ll find that any good business owner (most of them) would be extremely grateful for you taking the time to explain your concerns instead of just walking out, never coming back, and badmouthing them to others. Most business owners would appreciate the opportunity to make things right. Why let your fear of a few terrible owners make you treat the good ones worse? I say this as a small business owner: Please tell me when I do something wrong so I can rectify it, apologize, and hopefully make things right.

  116. Will E. says

    I have to agree with everyone who said this is a non-issue. If the clerk actively tried to engage you in an Xian conversation (i.e., began to evangelize) than that’s a problem. But an Xian radio station? For 20 minutes? Pah. Most everywhere you’re exposed to radio/music/TV in public places, it’s going to be bad, whaddaya expect in an inspection place? I’ll admit my bias: unless the music I hear in a waiting room or department store or restaurant is a constant stream of the Stones, ’70s punk, and the Replacements, I’m unhappy. Big deal. I’ve come to expect being “discriminated” against. Have you ever really listened to the music piped in at a Borders? Now that is discrimination against good taste.

  117. frog says

    What a bunch of oversensitive children!
    So what if a customer tells a business to f*ck-off (in more polite words), and the business reciprocates (in more polite words). Everyone knows where they stand, and life goes on. The customer knows to never deal with that business again, the business knows to not deal with that customer again, and everyone ends up better off.

    I just can’t stand this sensitivity on all sides. No one pulled out a gun, no one threatened violence – it’s just a normal social interaction. The “unresolved antagonism” is that people can’t handle a little bit of normal aggressiveness, and end up feeling guilty for perfectly normal behavior: the customer gets pissed off and lets the business know – the business doesn’t care (obviously they feel that this segment of the market is unimportant). No need to feel guilty by any party!

    It’s like a live in a nation full of children – feelings get so easily bruised, maybe we should all start to cry about insensitive business owners and annoying customers.

  118. Spaulding says

    I agree with the basics of post #90, but I still think the reaction is out of proportion. Many of us argue that religion should not have a privileged place in society, that it should not be seen as somehow immune to questioning, to calls for evidence, even to mockery; that it should be as mundane as other superstious beliefs like horoscopes or lucky numbers. But this position cuts both ways. There are many silly, unappealing, or annoying subjects that a person hears over the course of a day, and it’s really not productive to make a stink every time your tastes and interests clash with someone else’s.

    I think the music analogy pretty much works. When you go into a place of business, you may find the lighting unflattering, the decor tacky, the signs misspelled, and the radio annoying. These are generally out of your control. Usually, a customer just quietly deals with it. If these annoying things can be easily and quickly remedied, like annoying music or talk on the radio, I don’t see anything wrong with a simple request for change. But if such things really exceed your threshold of annoyance, you can leave – in this case, it’s constructive to explain the reason for your departure to the owner or manager. So I think you’ve described a good reaction to the situation.

    But this is really an issue of making an inviting customer environment, and reacting appropriately to customer complaints. It’s not particularly relevant whether the radio was playing Christian sermons or NPR or The Eagles or Public Enemy. It was a station that the employee liked and the customer didn’t.

  119. Barking Pumpkin says

    When I went in for jury duty they were playing soap operas and talkshows most of the day. The next day I brought a TV jammer in my bag and turned it on every time they wanted to watch some POS Jerry Springer wannabe.

    …they gave up after a while.

  120. says

    The part of the story that everyone seems to be forgetting here is that the purpose of the visit was to obtain a State mandated inspection sticker. Yes, the garage is a private business, but by issuing State inspection stickers, that business was acting as an agent of the State (and probably getting State money too). This means that the business owner must act as if his business were a State office. (Personally, I think all the States should perform their own inspections, but my opinion might be tainted by seeing the effects of this Federal government’s privatizations.)

    Here in Philadelphia, the FSGP is in a fight with the BSA (who discriminate against gays and atheists) because they recieve funds (in the form of free rent) from the city in clear violation of the city charter. Either the BSA needs to stop discriminating, or the city needs to revoke their non-profit status and start charging them rent.

    While the garage case doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of the BSA case, there is one parallel I see. Perhaps PZ has the wrong idea about how to approach this. If the owner refuses to change the station, instead of complaining to the local papers, complain to the DMV.

    ps—I actually came up with this on my way into work this morning, but the new firewall the IT department put up won’t let me access Scienceblogs. Grrr!!

  121. says

    Yes, the garage is a private business, but by issuing State inspection stickers, that business was acting as an agent of the State (and probably getting State money too). This means that the business owner must act as if his business were a State office.

    This would be true if the garage owner was being paid by the state or if the complainer had been assigned to that particular garage with no option to go elsewhere. Neither is the case.

    This issue doesn’t even come close to discrimination.

  122. twincats says

    When I had jury duty this last February, it was probably the best of all possible worlds because they had Animal Planet on all of the video monitors. I also abhor most all daytime TV, but AP was actually a pretty tolerable choice and also played at a blessedly low volume. I do find it interesting that most of the medical/dental offices I go to (including the local ER) play either Disney movies or Court TV.

    If I was a business owner and someone complained about my ambient noise of choice, I’d just switch it off (cheerfully, of course) for the duration of that customer’s visit; mainly because I probably wouldn’t have time to negotiate what station would be preferable.

  123. Cameron says

    I can’t quite get into this one. All it conjures up for me is an image of a red-faced, outraged atheist loudly demanding that a store clerk say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” Who gives a shit what this bozo plays on his radio? You’re not there to listen to his fucking radio. Lighten up.

  124. says

    This issue doesn’t even come close to discrimination.

    Jim Royal

    While the garage case doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of the BSA case, there is one parallel I see.

    me, 2 paragraphs after the quote JR was refering to

    Way to cherrypick. I never claimed it was discrimination. But when a business is acting as a representative of the state, it needs to live up to state standards. This is not a case where the state mandates that your lights must be working when you’re on the road. This is a case where the state says you must get an inspection from a state accredited garage. The sticker you’re given is state property, but it is administered by the garage. Clearly the garage is acting as an agent for the state.

    If it’s inappropriate to be subjected to gospel radio at the DMV, then it should also be inappropriate at the garage.

  125. says

    All it conjures up for me is an image of a red-faced, outraged atheist loudly demanding that a store clerk say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!”

    That’s your problem. It was actually a young woman quietly asking a shop owner to turn off an annoying radio program, and leaving calmly and without histrionics when he refused. And even then wondering if maybe she had been too hasty.

    I think you have her confused with BIll O’Reilly.

  126. Cameron says

    I agree the style is different, but the substance is much the same: the inalienable American right not to be offended. I expect it from lunatic religious authoritarians, not from sane secular people. Not a big deal either way for me, just somewhat surprising.

  127. Pierce R. Butler says

    I’m reminded of the story of a friend here in north Florida, a wheelchair-using Gulf War I vet who preferred not to ride out a hurricane in her mobile home two years ago.

    After enduring a couple of hours of too-loud-to-escape lowbrow Jezus radio in the officially designated storm shelter, she asked the government employee in charge to turn the sound off/down/to a different station. Said employee refused. After a generally futile attempt to seek support from her fellow refugees, my friend tried again, with the result of having a sheriff’s deputy called in to tell her that she was no longer allowed in the only handicapped-accessible storm shelter in Levy County.

    A slam-dunk legal case, except that of course she can’t afford a lawyer and the local ACLU was stretched too thin to take it on. Fortunately, she’s not too far from a VA hospital in another county which provides shelter to vets during hurricanes – and which doesn’t allow its employees to abuse their authority to harass the clientele (except for paperwork reasons as required by official policy, naturally).

  128. Rhampton says

    Wow! Never had I imagined that promoting tolerance would prove controversial on a blog such as this. Does not the scientific method prove that ethical truths are relative? Does not liberty require the mutual respect of freedoms?

    On the page to which you linked:

    American Heritage Dictionary
    1. The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.
    4. the act or capacity of enduring; endurance: My tolerance of noise is limited.
    Online Etymology Dictionary
    1412, “endurance, fortitude,” from O.Fr. tolerance (14c.), from L. tolerantia “endurance,” from tolerans, prp. of tolerare “to bear, endure, tolerate”
    2. a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior [syn: permissiveness] [ant: restrictiveness]

  129. says

    Way to cherrypick. I never claimed it was discrimination. But when a business is acting as a representative of the state, it needs to live up to state standards…

    You did not, but the person who went to the garage did.

    If it’s inappropriate to be subjected to gospel radio at the DMV, then it should also be inappropriate at the garage.

    Then the same legislation that applies to government offices also applies to a privately-owed garage? if that’s the case, then the government can legislate what a private businessman can play on his own radio.

    So if I go to a photo lab to get a photo taken for a driver’s license, the owner of the photo lab is subject to federal anti-discrimination laws?

    Help! I’ve fallen down the slippery slope and I can’t get up!

  130. silence says

    If you make a polite request to have the station changed and it is ignored, I would personally sit there and listen to what was being said. I would then laugh at the absurdities and say something along the lines of “And people believe this crazy stuff.” With enough berating they will generally change the station to avoid hearing your views as leaving it there runs the risk of starting the much taboo dialog on religion. But that is simply what I would do. To each their own, but I can’t stand hearing ignorance in public places and make it a point to confront it where I see it.

  131. Texas Reader says

    Hi, I’m the writer of the email to PZ about the christian radio station. Thanks to everyone for their two cents, I’m still reading the comments and am giving them all serious consideration. I’d like to answer one question I have seen here – no, there were no other people in the waiting room. That fact did figure into my decision to ask the owner to change the station to a non-religious one.

    Some commenters felt I overreacted, that its not as if I would be harmed by having to listen to this radio station while I waited. I agree, I would not be harmed. I think it was a matter of the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I live in a city where people regularly will ask, upon meeting someone, “so, what church do you go to?” When a house next door to mine was sold one of my neighbors reassured me that the new owner was a good guy – that he was a Christian. I grew up going to Baptist church and did my undergraduate schooling at a Baptist University. I have some friends who are religious, and some who are not.

    What I am weary of is the frequent assumption that because I am a kind-hearted and ethical person that I must be a Christian. I’m also wearing of the Christian right’s efforts to push their religious views on others by utilizing our government (i.e. their support for prayer in schools, their efforts to outlaw abortion, etc.) It is becoming more and more important to me that our society show the same respect to the non-religious as they show the religious. l

    I did not object to being exposed to Christian radio, I objected to having it forced on me while I waited for the work to be done on my car. If the owner had asked me what channel I suggested, I would have requested either the local classical station or the local NPR station.

  132. says

    It depends on how loud it was.

    I’ve been an atheist for my entire life. In fact, it goes back for generations in my family.

    I would have let the guy listen to his radio station because unless it was really loud, it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. I’d probably be reading so wouldn’t hear it.

    To make a big deal out of it is silly, as far as I’m concerned. It really isn’t important enough to worry about, let alone whine about. I should mention I’m not a great fan of political correctness, more of a different strokes for different folks kind of person.

    Now, if the guy refused to serve me because I was an atheist, I’d have an issue worth pursuing.

    Hell, go to Colorado Springs, they give out free bibles in the auto shops there. Creepy? You bet. I call it ‘local colour’.

    In Canada, there are a lot more atheists in the population so it’s not such an issue. Religion is generally pretty quiet up here, which works for me.

  133. says

    But it’s not the same as a passport picture. You can take your own passport picture if you like. You can only get an inspection at a State sanctioned garage and the sticker is official state property.

    Again, maybe I’m biased because I see the outsourcing of government services as a sort of return to feudalism.

  134. Mark W says

    I probably wouldn’t have complained, but then we English have a thing about “making a scene”.

    But I find it hard to believe that people are objecting to this woman quietly and politely explaining her reasons for wanting the radio changed, and when she did not get her way, leaving.

    The garage owner was an ass and deserved to lose the customer.

  135. says

    I would have ignored the music (I can ably block out C&W and even death metal, so “inspirational” is no problem) and asked the owner if he knew where I could get one of those cute fish plates for my car — the ones with little feet on them.

  136. violet crazy girl says

    If you don’t find it irritating but funny, there’s another option available to you. Laugh. Make comments to the owner about the absurdity of the claim you just heard the radio evangelist make.

    That’s pretty clearly the ideal response. The laughing is optional. Making the owner uncomfortable about the fact that he’s letting everyone critique his religion isn’t really desirable–what you want is for the owner to become comfortable with people critiquing his religion.

    Leaving because you don’t like what’s being played? It’s acceptable, but only if it’s really bothering you and you really can’t be arsed to engage. It seems slightly worse than just sitting there and dealing, because you end up perpetuating monocultural motifs (there’s Us and Them and never the twain shall meet, etc.)

    And obviously the clerk was discriminating. He was discriminating against customers who couldn’t deal with Christian radio in the waiting room to a high enough degree that they’ll just leave. That isn’t generally considered a protected group, and maybe the clerk doesn’t care, but nevertheless.

  137. Nicholas says

    I can’t quite get into this one. All it conjures up for me is an image of a red-faced, outraged atheist loudly demanding that a store clerk say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” Who gives a shit what this bozo plays on his radio? You’re not there to listen to his fucking radio. Lighten up.

    I feel the need to point out that the reader is not you. Your comment makes it seem as though you haven’t noticed this fact. Whether the radio would aggravate you is irrelevant. It aggravated the emailer and the question became what to do about it. If you want to make a fair determination of whether their actions were justified replaced ‘christian radio’ with something that actually annoys you.

    For the record, this would not have annoyed me and I wouldn’t have made a scene, but I understand the feeling. Two years ago I pulled into a national city near my new house to use the ATM. I had never been there before, so I pulled in off of a main road (where most cars were doing 40-60 mph) at less than 5 mph. It didn’t matter as the entry was in such a state of disrepair that the front of my car slammed off the concrete, my airdam cracked, and the paint on my ground effects was scraped. It was hundreds of dollars worth of damage; that annoyed me. I had no problem talking to a manager at National City later that week to explain why I was closing down my checking and savings accounts and my two credit cards with them.

    We all have different things that bother us. Critiquing whether someone else’s opinion is right or not is not relevant. What’s important is how they reacted considering they were annoyed. So, again, if you want to think it through fairly you should think of what annoys you and place that into the story to understand how the emailer was feeling. Though I don’t need to change the story much myself; Incompetent idiots running businesses make me see red…

  138. Pierce R. Butler says

    Texas Reader: … either the local classical station or the local NPR station.

    There’s a place in Texas which has both a classical and an NPR station?!? Even with the pushy bible-bangers stomping around, you live in an elite cultural oasis by southern standards…

  139. Joel says

    My dentist always had those religious tracts available in the lobby along with the year-old magazines, and I knew he was a Christist, but his music was the muzak that induced comas (probably good in a dental office) and the staff was always friendly and professional. However, the last time I was there for a cleaning and filling, I had to sit through three separate sermons on the overhead radio and stare at the shiny cross on every person’s nametag who leaned over me. I became far more anxious than I have ever been. They had sharp pointy things and drilling equipment in my mouth. How would they feel about my treatment if they found out I was gay? I hoped they would be just as professional, but I couldn’t bring myself to make a follow-up appointment. Instead, I explained to the woman on the phone that the overt religious symbols made me extremely uncomfortable and I was going to take my teeth to a business that didn’t seem to be recruiting for church while taking my money.

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to take your business elsewhere if you are uncomfortable or offended by a business environment. I wouldn’t think of asking him to change the radio station, but a lack of business and customers who make it clear why they are going elsewhere may wake up these Christists to diversity in their community.