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Suns won't yield to atheist

June 22, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The Hagerstown Suns have rejected a request to end a church promotion that a Waynesboro, Pa., man claims discriminates against him, the team said Monday.

Carl Silverman filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations in April, alleging that the minor league baseball team's "Church Bulletin Day" promotion on Sundays discriminates against him because he is an atheist.

Catherine A. Skaggs, the lead investigator for the commission's Hagerstown office, said she could not comment because the case has not been resolved.

David Blenckstone, the team's general manager, said the commission asked the club on June 12 to discontinue its promotion as part of a "pre-determination settlement agreement." He said the team has rejected the request.

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"We'd rather take our chances and present our case and let the commission decide," he said.

The request was the opening salvo in a dispute that began April 12 when Silverman asked that he and his two daughters be allowed in the stadium for the $6 discounted price even though he did not have a bulletin.

When a team employee told him he would have to pay the full price of $8, he said his rights were being violated. He filed the complaint five days later.

Blenckstone said the team has for five years offered a discount to fans who bring in church bulletins on Sundays. He said the team had received no complaints until April.

The case has attracted the attention of news organizations throughout the region. Blenckstone said the club has received calls of support from people all over the country.

"We've had a tremendous amount of responses, not only from fans, but from people who have never even heard of the ballclub before," he said.

Blenckstone said the team expects a hearing to be held within the next few months. He restated the club's contention that the promotion does not exclude anyone on the basis of religious conviction.

"I don't think we're discriminating. It's just a piece of paper. Everybody has access to it," he said. "We don't ask people who come to our ticket office, Did you really go to church this morning?"

Promotions are a staple of minor league baseball, where teams must attract fans without the big-name talent of major league ball.

The Class A Suns, a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, rank 12th out of 14 teams in the South Atlantic League in attendance. The club has drawn an average of 1,341 fans per game this year, Blenckstone said. Although that is about the same as last year, he said seven rainouts have hurt overall attendance figures.

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