Baseball team, agnostic take battle before judge

Discount for churchgoers prompts Hagerstown fight

June 29, 1999|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

The Hagerstown Suns minor-league team and a Pennsylvania agnostic took their squabble over baseball and God to the courts yesterday, asking an administrative law judge to determine whether granting churchgoers discounts to games is discriminatory.

The Suns, a Single-A affiliate of the major-league Toronto Blue Jays, have run a promotion for the past six years that reduces ticket prices on Sundays for anybody coming to the stadium with a church bulletin.

The team could be fined as much as $500 if they are found to have violated state law against discrimination in public places.

Suns officials have argued the promotion is designed to boost family values and is not discriminatory because bulletins from all religious denominations are accepted.

But Carl Silverman, a Waynesboro, Pa., resident who describes himself as an agnostic, has argued the promotion is illegal because it discriminates against people who have no religious faith. Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he says, public accommodations such as Hagerstown Municipal Stadium cannot discriminate.

He testified at a hearing at the Hagerstown barracks of the Maryland State Police yesterday that he does not know whether there is a God and that for him to present a church bulletin would be hypocritical.

The hearing is scheduled to continue today and tomorrow. Administrative Law Judge Georgia Brady is expected to announce her decision in about a month.

The case began on Easter Sunday 1998, when Silverman was charged full admission price to see a game. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, he went to the Maryland Human Relations Commission.

The commission issued an advisory opinion that the team was violating the law.

When the Suns refused to end the promotion, the commission filed charges.

Pub Date: 6/29/99

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