The Humanists Now Want to Sue Over the Angelika Plano's Refusal to Show Atheist Ads

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Several weeks ago, two area theaters refused to show an ad for atheism, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason's new campaign, "Our Families Are Great Without Religion." Now the American Humanist Association, which supports DFWCoR's parent organization, the United Coalition of Reason, has gotten involved, and they've brought along some lawyers.

To review: The Arlington location of Movie Tavern refused to show the ad and sent the atheists back their money as soon as they realized what it was. The Plano Angelika waded in and apparently agreed to the ad with full knowledge that it was godless and whatnot. But they abruptly yanked that agreement off the table, reportedly after complaints over a story published here.

We had half-expected a lawsuit over this one, but from a different direction: as Dave Silverman, president of the American Atheists, recently made clear to us, and he's pretty pissed about the whole thing too. He said at the time that the American Atheists were "looking into" whether the Plano Angelika had violated any equal protection or anti-discrimination laws.

The American Humanists think so. Lawyer Bill Burgess has sent a letter to the Angelika brass, warning them that their refusal is "a violation of federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of religious views by a business open to the public."

Burgess also tells the Angelika that it is "irrelevant" whether they refused to do business with DFWCoR because of a personal bias against atheism or whether it was a practical decision to avoid controversy; both, he says, are just as illegal. The lawyer also says that he's been informed that the theater has previously shown religious advertising.

Burgess says that the theater can avoid potential litigation by reversing their decision and allowing DFWCor to show their ad; he's given them a week to reply. The full letter is below.

American Humanists Letter to the Angelika Plano

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71 comments
Jim Bob Guthrie
Jim Bob Guthrie

Burgess' contentions would be a unique interpretation of the Civil Rights Act.

The United States Supreme Court has held that freedom of speech also means freedom FROM association with certain speech. In Hurley v. Irish-American, the Supreme Court held that it did not violate the "public accommodation" statute of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act when a parade refused to admit a group that did not express views in compliance with the organizers. Hurley, 515 U.S. 557 (1995).  The state could not compel them to be associated with speech that they did not approve. 

But, there are a couple US Supreme Court opinions that could help Burgess' contention. For example, in Turner Broadcasting v FCC, the Supreme Court held that a cable operator had to accommodate channels that it disagreed with because people would not believe that a cable operator's hosting of a channel was an endorsement of the speech on that channel. Turner, 512 US 622 (1995). The Humanists could argue that the movie theater is a conduit for speech, much like a cable operator. Also, the US Supreme Court held that it did not violate the free speech rights of a shopping mall to be required to allow people to distribute handbills on their property when there was a state law that permitted it.  Pruneyard Shopping v. Robbins, 447 US 74 (1980).  The shopping mall could also have signs that said they did not approve of the messages in those signs.  So in this situation, the movie theater could have signs that say they don't approve of the speech. I think these are the Humanists' best cases. 

But I still have a fear that this will not be litigated very well by their current counsel. Even though he is clearly a civil rights lawyer, he didn't cite case law that would intimidate me if I were the general counsel of Angelika.  The fact that I could find these cases in a couple minutes, and the fact that he cited case law and a statute that does not apply, makes me think he is going to lose.

Grove boy
Grove boy

So if your an atheist....What do you care? Why would an atheist group spend money promoting their lack of faith? Give the money to the poor.There is a serious lack of reason in this groups actions.  Give them their money back and sever the relationship.

Jim Bob Guthrie
Jim Bob Guthrie

I think that the movie theaters should show these advertisements. There is nothing wrong with them at all. But I'm not sure that the legal action has any legs based solely on the statutes and case law cited in the lawyer's letter.  Full disclosure: I'm a Christian and a lawyer. 

I won't pretend to know all the case law on this topic, but I did read the statute and case provided by the Coalition's attorney.  First, the case he cites is so distinguishable that it is rendered irrelevant. It involves the admittance of African-Americans into a franchise of theaters in 1960's Mississippi. The trial court was presented with evidence that it was written company policy to deny physical access to black people or segregate them from whites. It does not deal with the obvious First Amendment issues that are relevant to this case. (Freedom of Speech also implicates our freedom of association, i.e., we have a freedom of speech right not to be associated with ideas that we find offensive). Since atheists not being barred from admittance, he hasn't shown that Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 defines atheism as a religion, nor does he show that "accommodation" under the CRA equals speech, then he hasn't advanced his case. (Atheism is a religion for employment discrimination purposes, but I haven't found anything about public accommodation).  

Now, a couple stylistic objections that raise my eyebrow as a lawyer.  The case is from a district court in Mississippi. The case itself therefore has no binding effect in Texas. So, from a legal perspective, that was a bad choice. It is also from 1966. If I were citing a case, it would be more recent and have binding effect on the person I'm trying to convince. That shows me you're inexperienced or you don't have any authority to make me do anything. 

Any "lawyer" that writes a letter to "manager" and "to whom it may concern" is clearly someone without research capabilities. When I read this as a lawyer, I automatically think to myself, "This guy doesn't have access to Westlaw, Lexis or even know how to use the Secretary of State Website to find the registered agent for the service of process. What a chump."  It's like hiring a physician that doesn't know how to get to the hospital.  

So, like I said, I think the ad should be shown. But the lawyer isn't making a good case for it. 

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Would the Angelika show a film about the Angelika not showing the advertizement  ?

Mike
Mike

Movie theaters are not using the public airwaves. They can refuse ads for any reason. They own the space. It is no different than a restaurant deciding what posters it puts in its windows. Personally I think the error was because some level flunky did not understand corporate policy (avoid political issues like Ebola infected people) and someone from corporate had to take charge. That is not cause for a lawsuit.

Fortheloveof
Fortheloveof

The case mentioned in the letter has nothing to do with advertising. I think the claim that failing to allow the ads to be shown is a stretch.  Television stations can restrict ads that they show. I hate to see a company have to spend money on attorneys to deal with this kind of b.s. It is simply an attempt to get free publicity.

Pooua
Pooua

This whole thing is silly. Why is it that atheists and humanists cannot explain themselves to others without reference to religion, that is, to what they claim they are not? A local junior college has a new humanist student organization, whose every activity springs from the argument that we should be humanists because Christianity is ridiculous.

The choice of the Angelica as the target of an anti-religious lawsuit is ironic, one that I, at least, would not expect. Perhaps the humanists felt the need to pick at the fringes?

It's unfortunate that the Angelica finds itself in this situation. Movie theaters in general have a tough time staying in business, and Angelica is a special, niche theater. It would be unfortunate to lose it, particularly if it's just because one group insists that it must carry its advertisements.

Gaytheist
Gaytheist

I'm an out-and-proud atheist, and I have to say that this atheist group seems like a bunch of whining assholes.

RTGolden
RTGolden

Personally, I have no problem with the ads.  I'd rather not see any ads at the theater.  I don't notice over the many years of advertising in movie theaters that the prices have leveled off or reduced at all.

I have much less patience with this legal angle.  There is plenty of precedence of broadcasters pulling advertising due to public pressure.  There are plenty of instances where advertisers pulled their ads or canned endorsements due to public pressure.  A business that doesn't pay attention to public whims wont be in business at all.

One good thing that will probably come of all this: Other theater owners will notice and refuse to run the ads in the first place.  It might even get other theaters to pull all religious advertising.

Citizen Kim
Citizen Kim

Extortion by lawyer, thereby causing all Angelica patrons to have to pay more to see a movie ... hardly the way to build support for your cause.

Keithdylan
Keithdylan

I would be more inclined to join these groups than not, but I really am uncomfortable with forcing private businesses to do something when public safety or other community concerns are not involved.  They are not saying no atheists can come to their theater.  Jeez, many of the movies shown at the Angelika probably carry the message the group is trying to get across in one way or another.  The films there do tend to have a liberal/left bend to them.  If the Fairness Doctrine has been removed for TV and radio, how can anything near it be applied here?

Daniel
Daniel

I figure these atheist types must have been raised in religious households -- their view is so reductive and binary. The world isn't divided into full-bore religious fruitcakes and Mr. Spock-like atheists. My family is great without religion, too -- do I get some kind of prize? Wait, I also believe there's more to reality than our puny brains are capable of perceiving -- do I still at least get a year's supply of Turtle Wax and Rice-A-Roni, the San  Francisco treat?

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

The Angelika The Home ART-HOUSE CINEMA HIPSTER is worried about what it puts on before a Movie ?Pretend the Dang thing is a really short controversial film an the Art House Hipster types will be all over it as not to be missed MINI feature .

And everyone is Happy !

Brian  Westley
Brian Westley

If you deal with the public, a "no atheists" policy is just as illegal as a "no Jews" or "no Catholics" policy; the only difference is how (un)popular each group is.

Mickister
Mickister

I applaud Anna.  She got in both of her standard articles today: (1) don't touch the vagina, and (2) religion sucks.  She has earned an entire weekend of...whatever she does on the weekend.

Mydog
Mydog

I pray they lose.

Lolotehe
Lolotehe

 Maybe the Magnolia would.

Johann
Johann

Movie theaters are not using the public airwaves.

Movie theaters serve the public, both in their capacity as entertainment providers and as carriers of advertising - airwaves have nothing to do with it. So no, they can't "refuse ads for any reason" just like a restaurant can't "refuse service for any reason" - refusing service to someone because you don't like their religious views is nothing at all like deciding what posters you want to put up in your establishment.

Johann
Johann

The choice of the Angelica as the target of an anti-religious lawsuit is ironic

The irony is in your thorough misunderstanding of the (potential) lawsuit. It's not anti-religious; it's anti-discrimination. The whole reason this situation arose is Angelica's refusal to serve atheists - that was the "choice" that created the problem, not someone rolling the dice at the CoR or AHA to see whom to sue next.

No discrimination - no lawsuit. It's really a very simple concept.

The Angry Atheist
The Angry Atheist

 yea because laws are just for wimps, what is it you are proud of exactly? The way you let others do whatever they want  while you stand around and look proud?

Johann
Johann

 Except, public whims or no, there are certain criteria which the law explicitly does not allow businesses to discriminate on - race, religion, etc.  An advertisement from a group dedicated to black people's civil rights cannot be rejected just because they are black; it can be rejected if there are other reasons to do so, i.e. it contains libel/false information or an incitement to violence, but it cannot be rejected on the basis of race even if 100% of the advertiser's audience declares that they don't want to see "those uppity darkies" on a billboard.  This case is much the same, except the criterion is religion rather than race.

cp
cp

I'm surprised that an Angelica exists in Plano...

2ndServe
2ndServe

Actually, Angelica just needs to comply with written law and they stand to make money from atheists.

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

I sit indoors and make up jokes about how short and weird Ron Paul is, Mickister. Obviously. Come on now. 

Johann
Johann

Thanks! I hope you'll encourage the lawyers on the defense team to pray as well instead of showing up in court. There could hardly be a more powerful statement of their confidence in Jesus' ability to make things come out his way, could there? =)

mark zero (Jason)
mark zero (Jason)

Man, remember when the Inwood was the only art house theater around? Now it doesn't even come up in these conversations.

Travis
Travis

You are incorrect. A media company has no requirement, at all, to run an ad. They can refuse to run an ad for any reason. This is not in the same realm as a restaurant refusing food service to someone because of their religion, race, etc.Forcing a media organization to run an ad violates their free speech as an entity.

If you want examples:Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. TornilloLangdon v. Google

RTGolden
RTGolden

The angelica didn't refuse to serve atheists.  it refused to run an ad for an atheist message.  atheists are most likely welcome to patronize the angelica, like anybody else.

Lolotehe
Lolotehe

 Actually, they would say "these black types". I've always found that kind of wording dismissive.

RTGolden
RTGolden

Like I said, I hope it leads to the the pulling of all religious advertising from movie theaters.

Oxbow
Oxbow

Its nice to see Atheists finally admit and act like they are indeed an organized religion.  :-)

trannyntraining
trannyntraining

I'm sure you're also surprised that the Earth revolves around the Sun....but it does!

Daniel
Daniel

How short and weird is he?

Lolotehe
Lolotehe

 Playing Vin Diesel's "The Baby Sitter" has that effect.

Johann
Johann

You view every Christian as some sort of dreamy-eyed idiot who totally rejects science and blindly follows whatever moron is in the pulpit. I'm giving you my thoughts on the subject and you dismiss it as fantasy world daydreams.

's interesting. If you'll reread what I wrote to you, you may notice that I never attacked your beliefs or even made assumptions about what they are. The bits I was openly challenging you on had to do with one specific issue - your perception of the American public's tolerance of atheists. Sure, they're your "thoughts on the subject", but the conjectures you are expressing are contradicted by some easily accessible facts.  For instance:

A majority of Americans would be less likely to, or would never vote for an atheist candidate for president.

Americans distrust atheists about as much as they distrust rapists.

Half would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist, and 40% think that atheists "do not at all agree with [their] vision of American society". Note this key sentence in particular: "Every group except atheists is being shown much greater tolerance and acceptance than 30 years ago."

Or, if you want some idea of how these prejudices play out on a personal basis...

Boy Scouts kick out an Eagle Scout after he is outed as an atheist - according to a regional Boy Scout official, "Anybody that doesn't believe in god isn't a good citizen [...] if an atheist found a wallet on the ground they would pick it up plunder the money and throw the wallet back on the ground."

A pastor wants to create a national Atheist Registry: "There are already National Registrys for convicted sex offenders , ex-convicts , terrorist cells , hate groups like the KKK , skinheads , radical Islamists , etc.."

A senior in Louisiana noticed that his high school was, unconstitutionally, scheduling a prayer as part of the graduation ceremony and contacted the administration to point out that this was against the law. For this he was ostracized by his school and town, slandered by a teacher in a local newspaper, threatened with injury and death, and thrown out of his house by his parents. The school went ahead with the prayer despite the law.

There's plenty more, but I think this is enough to give you an idea of just why I had a problem with your claims that people would leave us alone if we weren't so confrontational about it all. (Hint: You've got the causality wrong.)

As for this conversation - I'm not sure why you decided to hold me responsible for your frustration with atheists in general, but I think that's my cue to wrap it up. Thank you for the discussion.

RTGolden
RTGolden

It does no good to discuss this with you.  You view every Christian as some sort of dreamy-eyed idiot who totally rejects science and blindly follows whatever moron is in the pulpit.  I'm giving you my thoughts on the subject and you dismiss it as fantasy world daydreams. Hows this grab you:

I could care less about your beliefs, or lack of them, pertaining to the origins of life and the universe.  I can care less what someone in a robe behind a lectern has to say on the matter.  I believe that your denial of the existence of a creator, based on the scientific evidence presented in the natural world constitutes a belief system and as such is protected as a religion under the First Amendment. I believe that a private entity should be able to choose which advertising runs on its screens.  I believe, if that entity doesn't run the ads you'd like it to run, you can take your dollars elsewhere and they will feel the bite in their bottom line.  (before you claim that they wouldn't miss your godless dollars, keep in mind, an argument used above was the Angelika, if it would only follow the law, stands to make money off of the atheist audience).

It is my sincere hope that this lawsuit and all your efforts leads to one, and only one result.  How would I handle it were I in charge of the Angelika?  I would institute an immediate policy statement banning all religious advertising from the screens there.  I would remove anything remotely advocating any kind of religious message.  I would inform all employees, that for the purposes of this policy, atheism and humanism are to be considered religious organizations, for that is the protection they are seeking. (to eliminate the obvious backdoor channel of "we're not a religion so run our ad").  If the court dictated we had to run the ad to honor the contract (which they should have done anyway, that seriously was a chickenshit move. I can see the motivation for it, but then they shouldn't have entered the contract in the first place.), we'd run that ad for the specified time.

Johann
Johann

I'm not claiming you shouldn't be protected under the law. Your beliefs are your beliefs, and as a belief structure (i.e. religion) they are protected.

And I'm clarifying that the law doesn't require you to have religion to protect you from religious discrimination, and that claiming this protection doesn't make you religious.

I think most Americans could care less what another person's belief is, as long as it isn't thrown in our faces.

I would love to live in this fairytale land of easygoing, tolerant folk you're painting for us, RT. Problem is, there are plenty of people who consider our very existence a threat to them, their well-being and to this country. Americans like Muslims and homosexuals better than atheists, and that's saying something.

your Coalition of Reason

I'm just a random bystander who knows nothing about this organization. If you have a problem with the CoR, I suggest you take it up with them - and I would tone down hyperbole like "devoid of the capacity for reason".

Sure you have the Super Troopers of the religious right who will rail against you, but who really listens to them?

For starters, the roughly 45% of the American public that believes the Earth is less than 10000 years old.

RTGolden
RTGolden

I'm not claiming you shouldn't be protected under the law.  Your beliefs are your beliefs, and as a belief structure (i.e. religion) they are protected.  As to your third rebuttal, I think you're mistaken.  I think most Americans could care less what another person's belief is, as long as it isn't thrown in our faces.  Sure you have the Super Troopers of the religious right who will rail against you, but who really listens to them?  Along those lines, you could also show a little bit of respect for others' beliefs as well.  Does your Coalition of Reason include christians, jews, muslims, scientologists, and zoroastrians?  Or are all of those groups of people devoid of the capacity for reason in your eyes?

Johann
Johann

Who is lying?

No one but Oxbow has said that atheists are an organized religion, so his saying that we "admit" it is a lie.

If you are suing on the basis of religious discrimination, aren't you claiming to be a religion of sorts?

Not at all. The law protects all viewpoints on religion from discrimination, including atheism. Consider laws against discrimination based on disability; it's not there to protect people with one disability from those with another, but to protect everyone (including people with no disabilities) from discrimination based on their disability status.

Keep your beliefs to yourself and you'll get more respect from most people.

This is not true at all. We've kept to ourselves here in the US of A until about a decade ago, and most people treated us like dirt because it's always been acceptable (and even considered good) to treat us like dirt. Atheists get far more respect in the media and in society in general today than they did back then.

trannyntraining
trannyntraining

But, but how am I to beat my chest and claim superiority if I just let you be? Human psychology is much more complex(shallower?) than that!

RTGolden
RTGolden

Who is lying?  If you are suing on the basis of religious discrimination, aren't you claiming to be a religion of sorts?  Look, I get screwed both ways; the Jesus freaks hate me because I'm a questioning believer and I tell them their holy book was put together by Constantine to keep the Empire from being torn apart.  The atheists think I'm a simpleton because I believe in something greater than myself.  All I want to do is watch a movie and be left alone.  Keep your beliefs to yourself and you'll get more respect from most people.

Johann
Johann

Wish I could say the same about people lying about us and what we stand for this way, but that's never been all that nice.

Lonestranger
Lonestranger

Are you saying that Jesus is alive and will talk to me? Tell me what Jesus wrote in the bible that will give me comfort? If I read Bible right, he didn't write anything himself, the written words came from what other say he said. And what do you mean by "in need of Jesus". Do mean your interpretation of what he had supposed to have said?

godlessveteran
godlessveteran

People need Jesus like they need cancer.  But I repeat myself.

Mickister
Mickister

I agree.  Where some men see an angry, faux-countercultural Ivy League snob, real men see a woman in need. 

In need of love.

In need of a burger.

In need of pigmentation.

And most importantly, in need of Jesus.

Johann
Johann

And yet if I told you to go gargle dicks and added "i kid i kid" at the end, you'd probably find it objectionable. Funny how that works.

chasd00
chasd00

"Ahhh...but real men like Anna!" to shut the hell up and knit us a sweater.

i kid i kid

2ndServe
2ndServe

Ahhh...but real men like Anna!

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

Ron Paul's so short and weird, when he tells people he's not happy, they say, "Dammit, which of the seven dwarves are you then?"

Look, I didn't say they were funny jokes.

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