THE CURSE OF INDIFFERENCE
by David Sisler
You have to hand it to the American Civil Liberties Union (and most of the time that hand would feel pleasurable if doubled up into a fist). They are ever vigilant, ever watchful, seeking to protect us all from the horrors of organized, or organizing, religion. Their latest strike is against America's past-time, baseball.
This story has been winding through Maryland's legal system for more than a year. It began on April 12, 1998, when Carl Silverman took his family to see the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A, South Atlantic League team, and a part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Like minor league clubs everywhere (and major league teams, as well) the Suns were having a promotion, offering a discount to get people into the ballpark that Sunday evening. A family of six, armed with a church bulletin were admitted to the ballpark for $6, a two dollar discount.
Mr. Silverman told the ticket seller that he did not have a church bulleting and that he was not "a religious person." He paid the regular $8 admission.
Protesting, Silverman said, "Imagine if they had a 'white' night where a family of up to six white people got in for $6.00, but others had to pay a higher price." That argument would probably gain support from everyone except the promoters of race-specific beauty pageants, but Silverman, and now the ACLU, fail to note that it was not "Methodist Bulletin Night," nor "Catholic Bulletin Night," nor "Pentecostal Bulletin Night." Any church bulletin, or newsletter, from any denomination, any date, not merely April 12, 1998, would do. But they filed a discrimination suit nevertheless.
In bringing suit, the plaintiffs ignore the fact that the Suns did not require that the literature be from any Christian denomination. Programs from Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, or an organization of unbelievers were welcome. To procure the premium, the patrons' prerequisite was to present the program, they did not have to promote the persuasion.
Were the Suns promoting religion? Of course not. Over the summer, the team offers a wide variety of promotional programs for businesspeople, Scouts, PTA groups, children, the Lions Club, the Little League, and more. It even offers a "couch potato night" promotion. Were any discrimination suits filed because of those promotions? Again, of course not.
"Non-churchgoing families should not be expected to have to go into a church and retrieve a document to receive equal treatment," Silverman said. Has anyone sued the Binghamton (NY) Mets for sponsoring AFL-CIO Night? Are non-union members being discriminated against by that promotion? Has anyone sued the Charleston (SC) RiverDogs for sponsoring Military Appreciation Night? Are all civilians being discriminated against by that promotion? Just who would be the suers if a discrimination action were brought against the Columbia (SC) Capital City Bombers for their Flying Elvises Night?
David G. Leitch and Gregory G. Garre filed a brief in the Suns case on behalf of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. In a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal, they wrote, "Every state has antidiscrimination laws that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion. But interpreting such laws to prohibit promotional programs like Church Bulletin Day simply because they permit the religious to participate in discounts made available to virtually everyone else presents a problem of genuine constitutional dimension. It evinces hostility on the part of the state toward religion in general, and that is prohibited by the First Amendment."
The Suns management decided to take the issue through the court system rather than pay a $500 fine. Let's hope they prevail against the ACLU and Mr. Silverman. But at the same time, church people could learn a thing or two about vigilance from these anti-religious vigilantes.
The ACLU will circle hell and back to side against organized religion. We, in the religious camp, are slow to come to our brothers' aid. If it is a Baptist issue, the Methodists may be slow to become involved. If it is a Pentecostal issue, the Baptists may hesitate. If it is Catholic issue, the Pentecostals may let them battle it alone. When the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in their recent General Assembly, battled against insiders who wanted to change the denomination's Book of Order to permit the ordination of homosexuals, did the rest of us hold them up in prayer, or dismiss the proceedings as being a "Presbyterian issue"? Isn't there enough of Jesus in all of us to fight on common ground?
Writing to the Roman believers, Paul said, "If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so my Jewish brothers could be blessed by Him, I'd do it in a minute." God, save us from indifference!
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 7/10/99
Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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