Religious Baseball Trial Nears End
Jul. 09, 1999
HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) _ A baseball team humiliated and exploited an agnostic fan when it denied him a $2 admission discount reserved for those who brought church bulletins to a Sunday home game, the man's lawyer said Friday in a closing argument.
But a lawyer for the minor league Hagerstown Suns painted activist Carl Silverman as a crazed publicity hound whose religious discrimination complaint defies common sense.
Administrative Law Judge Georgia Brady said she would rule by mid-October on a charge by Silverman and the state human-rights office that the church bulletin promotion violates Maryland's law against religious discrimination in places of public accommodation. They want the judge to bar the 6-year-old promotion, fine the club $500 and order sensitivity training for its staff.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Michael Berman said Silverman, a stay-at-home father from nearby Waynesboro, Pa., is following in the footsteps of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King in peacefully protesting a violation of civil rights.
The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, ``sent out a message that religious people are more welcome than others at their games,'' Berman said.
Suns lawyer Joseph A. Schwartz III countered that the team encourages everyone to attend games with a variety of promotions. ``We've got promotions every day of the week, in every way,'' he said.
Schwartz said Silverman could have gotten another discount, and saved even more than $2, if the church bulletin promotion offended him. Instead, Silverman offered the ticket agent a copy of the federal anti-discrimination law.
``What sort of craziness is that to present to somebody?'' Schwartz said.
``Is the case over $2? Sure, it's over $2, but that's not what it's about for Mr. Silverman,'' Schwartz said. ``It's the klieg lights. It's the smell of the crowd. It's the brightness of the lights.''
Berman said expecting Silverman to use another discount program because of his agnostic creed was reminiscent of separate-but-equal racial accommodations, which the Supreme Court outlawed in 1954.
He recalled Suns owner Winston Blenckstone's testimony when asked whether he would go to a Ku Klux Klan meeting just to get a bulletin to qualify for discounted admission to another event. Blenckstone said he wouldn't, because he didn't agree with the Klan's views.
``The Suns are telling Carl Silverman he has to violate his creed,'' Berman said. ``They're willing to humiliate him for profit.''
Silverman filed the complaint after paying $8, instead of a discounted family admission price of $6, when he took his two daughters to a Suns game on Easter Sunday 1998.