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Atheists Win Civil Rights Lawsuit in Michigan

The courts ruled that a private social club cannot discriminate against a speaker for his religious beliefs.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Flikr/Shane Pope

 
 
 
 

Victory!

A secular-rights group won a lawsuit against a Michigan social club after it canceled a prominent atheist speaker because the club didn’t want to “associate” with his non-religious “philosophies.”

The private club, the Wyndgate Country Club in Rochester Hills, Michigan, invited the atheist advocate Richard Dawkins to speak at an event in 2011. But the club then withdrew the invitation after Dawkins appeared on the O’Reilly Factor and spoke primarily about atheism.

According to the Center for Inquiry, which was organizing Dawkin’s speaking date, the representative from the club canceled the arrangement with the excuse that “the owner does not wish to associate with certain individuals and philosophies." The Center for Inquiry then launched a lawsuit on the grounds that canceling the event based on Dawkin’s religious beliefs violated civil rights law.

Yesterday, the group announced that it had won the lawsuit, which it heralds as “perhaps the first time federal and state civil rights statutes have been successfully invoked by nonbelievers in a public accommodations lawsuit."

The announcement of the victory came only one day after an international organization submitted a report to the United Nations that detailed widespread global discrimination against atheists.

According to the study, undertaken by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, an organization with members in more than 45 countries, "Extensive discrimination by governments against atheists, humanists and the non-religious occurs worldwide."

Some of this discrimination far exceeds canceled speaking engagements. According to the group, at least seven countries have laws threatening atheists with the death penalty.

 

Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and the author of "A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home," forthcoming from Zuccotti Park Press.