- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2000

The Hagerstown [Md.] Suns and the American Civil Liberties Union have settled their dispute over the baseball team's practice of discounting admissions for families that bring church bulletins to Sunday games.

Under yesterday's agreement, the Hagerstown, Md., minor league team will change its promotion to include bulletins of civic and nonprofit organizations as well as churches in return for the discounted family admission price of $6 for as many as six family members.

The ACLU agreed to drop a federal lawsuit and a state action challenging the 6-year-old promotion. The plaintiffs had contended the promotion violated laws against religious discrimination in places of public accommodation.

"Essentially the promotion is not changing, the name of the promotion is changing," said David Blenckstone, general manager of the Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. "We agreed to take church out of the name of the promotion."

The promotion was called "Church Bulletin Day" for every Sunday home game. It will now be called "Sunday Family Bulletin Day."

The legal battle started when Carl Silverman of Waynesboro, Pa., tried to get the $2 discount when he brought his two daughters to a game on Easter Sunday 1998 and did not have a church bulletin. The ACLU joined the case on behalf of the agnostic Mr. Silverman, after he complained to a state civil rights agency. In July 1998, the Maryland Human Relations Commission found probable cause to conclude that the Suns' program violated state accommodations laws, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of creed, according to the ACLU.

Mr. Silverman said he was denied the discount when he told the ticket taker he didn't have a bulletin and he wasn't religious.

"We believe it's a total victory for Mr. Silverman," said Dwight Sullivan, staff counsel for the ACLU. "Mr. Silverman was objecting to discriminating against people who don't participate in organized religion he prevailed today."

The ACLU dropped its appeal as part of the settlement.

Mr. Blenckstone said the club did not discriminate against Mr. Silverman, and that the team decided to settle rather than risk more expensive legal battles.

"You never know what's going to happen, 100 percent," Mr. Blenckstone said. "We're not Philip Morris we don't have unlimited resources."

The ACLU claimed victory with yesterday's settlement, but Mr. Blenckstone said the Suns organization believes it was proven correct with its first day in court this fall.

In October, Administrative Law Judge Georgia Brady ruled the Suns could continue to offer the discount, and the Suns did not discriminate against Mr. Silverman. After the decision, the ACLU appealed the to the Maryland Human Relations Commission.

"We felt like we took this as far as we could," Mr. Blenckstone said. "We made our point."

The Suns said they started the promotion six years ago merely as a way to attract families to spend a day at the ballpark. The club has no plans to suspend such promotions.

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