A Michigan atheist group has announced that, in a case that saw the group sue a country club on religious discrimination grounds, a settlement has been reached, therein appearing to break new ground in protecting the freedom not to hold a religious faith.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome of this case, which we regard as an unqualified vindication of the rights of nonbelievers,” Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, is quoted as saying. “We are confident it will send a strong message that as much as this country now rejects discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, and religion, so must we reject just as strongly discrimination against those with no religion.”
The case stems from an incident in October 2011.
CFI, an organization describing itself as advocating for science, reason and secular values, had contacted Wyndgate Country Club of Rochester Hills, Michigan, to use its publicly available venue space to hold a 100 seat, $95 per ticket dinner.
However, the club later called to cancel after the club’s owner realized that the guest speaker at the event was to be renowned ethologist, evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins has become a prominent and vocal critic of religion and a promoter of both scientific literacy and skepticism against religious dogma. His best selling books include “The Selfish Gene,” ”The God Delusion,” ”The Greatest Show on Earth,” and his most recent work, “The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True.” Dawkins regularly features in high-profiled debates with theologians the world over and has been a particular thorn in the side of creationists.
The Wyndgate club’s owner, Larry Winget, had reportedly seen Dawkins on The O’Reilly Factor discussing his atheism and opposition to religion and, according to the suit, had instructed his staff to tell CFI organizers that he did not want to “associate with certain individuals and philosophies.” Winget appeared to believe that, as he owned the club, he was free to do as he wished per his own religious rights.
The CFI, however, disagreed and filed a lawsuit in April 2012 alleging violations of Title II of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations, and the Michigan Civil Rights Act
Now, the Wyndgate has chosen to settle the case and has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to the CIF. The settlement also calls for Wyndgate staff to undergo “sensitivity training” that will reportedly educate them regarding the rights of atheists and how federal and state law applies in public accommodations like the venue they have made available for public use.
This comes as atheists, agnostics, humanists and the wider non-believing community are increasingly “coming out” against the assumed norm of religious belief, with groups arising in the military and a more cognizable presence forming in schools and on university campuses.
This of course may be seen as somewhat of a push back against the rising religious fervor in some states where lawmakers appear to be going to great lengths to give religious privilege greater weight in legislation, as evidenced by Michigan’s own previously proposed religious exemptions in bullying to Tennessee’s revived legislation that seeks to exempt religious groups in universities from having to follow standard operating practices and nondiscrimination provisions.
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