A minor league baseball team can give discounts to fans who bring church bulletins to games as long as all fans are entitled to the same lower prices, a judge ruled on Tuesday.
The Hagerstown Suns gave the discounts to all fans whether or not they brought the bulletins, Administrative Law Judge Georgia Brady wrote in her opinion, striking down a religious discrimination complaint.
The fact that a promotion favors a particular group of people does not violate state law, she ruled.
Without evidence that the Suns denied the discount based on religious belief, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations cannot strike down the promotion, the judge wrote. The team can also continue the promotion, she said.
"I conclude that Maryland's public accommodation law, unlike that of many other jurisdictions, prohibits only the discriminatory application of a promotion," the opinion said. "In the absence of a discriminatory effect, the promotion is not per se illegal."
Attorneys for Carl Silverman, the fan who sued the team, said they will appeal.
Silverman of Waynesboro, Pa., claimed he and his two daughters were denied a family discount price of $6 for those who bring church bulletins to Sunday home games, and were charged $8 instead.
The human rights commission agreed that the Suns were discriminating and sought an order ending the six-year-old promotion by the Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
But a ticket seller testified that he tried to give the trio the discount, offering to record the discount on an extra church bulletin, but Silverman refused.
The ticket seller "did not care what the Complainant believed but knew he had to have a piece of paper to record how many people participated in the promotion," Brady wrote. "Silverman was offered the discount he sought. The significance of this cannot be overstated."
Suns' attorney Joseph A. Schwartz III criticized Silverman, the human rights commission and the ACLU.
"The ACLU and the commission should spend their energies going after real cases of discrimination and not false ones," Schwartz said.
Schwartz had argued during a hearing that Silverman was merely seeking publicity and could have obtained the discount by presenting a copy of an atheist newspaper he had brought along but left in his car.
Attorney Michael Berman, who represented Silverman along with the Maryland Chapter of the ACLU, said discrimination did occur.
"The judge said it's OK to advertise, it's simply not OK to do it," Berman said. "We feel, especially on the facts presented, that advertising such a policy is also prohibited by the statute."
Silverman did not immediately return a telephone message left at his home on Tuesday.
Suns General Manager David Blenckstone praised the decision, calling it a "tremendous off-field victory."
"I'm elated that wdid not give in to this bogus charge," Blenckstone said.
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