The American Humanist Association’s (AHA) legal center has sent a warning to the Angelika Film Center in Dallas, Texas, accusing the theater of violating federal law after it refused to show an advertisement from a local atheist group. The group, the Dallas-Fort-Worth Coalition of Reason (DFWCOR), a local chapter of the United Coalition of Reason, apparently attempted to buy advertising to be shown on the big screen before movies.
The advertisement, which is be a part of the secular group's "Our Families Are Great Without Religion" campaign, is intended to portray atheist families as "normal, moral and loving." According to a press release from the AHA, the theater initially agreed to run the ad, but later cancelled the contract.
In a letter sent from Bill Burgess, an attorney with a group called the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, the theater was both warned and chastised for its alleged actions. According to the note, Angelika Film Center's actions were conducted in violation of Title II of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. A portion of the letter reads:
Title II of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the “Act”) prohibits a business establishment such as the Theater from discriminating on the basis of religious views (such as atheism). Movie theaters are expressly listed among the sorts of businesses that are “places of public accommodation” subject to the Act. As a place of public accommodation, the Theater cannot lawfully refuse to do business with the Coalition on this discriminatory basis.
Please note that under the Act it is irrelevant whether your decision to refuse to do business with the Coalition was based on personal or organization animus to the atheist views of the Coalition and its proposed advertising or whether it was purely a business decision intended to avoid controversy. Courts rulings have made clear that there is no distinction under the Act between discrimination based upon personal animosity and that claimed to be purely economic (i.e. to avoid provoking the ire of customers who instead may themselves be biased against atheists); both are illegal.
Burgess concluded the letter by giving the theater one week to respond. If a proper dialogue does not ensue, the note claims that legal action may be taken on the matter.
The Friendly Atheist, mirroring the AHA's claim, also reported earlier this month that Angelika had initially agreed to show the advertisement. On Thursday afternoon, The Blaze left a message for the theater in an effort to get comments on the matter. So far, that message has not been returned.
All images are credited to the Dallas-Fort-Worth Coalition of Reason (DFWCOR).