Suns add halo, await hearing

April 23, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

A hearing before a Maryland administrative law judge to determine whether the Hagerstown Suns' "Church Bulletin Days" promotion is a form of religious discrimination has been scheduled to begin June 28, an attorney for the man who charged the Suns with discrimination said Friday.

Meanwhile, Suns General Manager David Blenckstone said a halo patch will be added to the sleeve of the Suns' home uniforms as a way of thanking those who have supported the church bulletin promotion.

American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Dwight Sullivan, who represents the Waynesboro, Pa., man who accused the Suns of religious discrimination, said Suns representatives declined to try to negotiate a settlement during a pre-hearing conference on Friday.

Sullivan added that the Suns' decision to put a halo patch on player uniforms shows that team officials are "treating this entire process like a publicity stunt."


Blenckstone said it was not a publicity stunt.

"The halo patch is just a way to say thank you to our supporters," he said.

Team officials did not try to negotiate a settlement during the conference on Friday, "because we don't think we did anything wrong," Blenckstone said.

The Church Bulletin Day promotion, in place for the past five seasons, offers families of up to six people a group admission price of $6 if they present a church bulletin when arriving for a Sunday home game at Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown.

The dispute over the promotion began April 12, 1998, when Carl Silverman asked that he and his two daughters be admitted to a Suns game for the $6 discounted price even though he did not have a church bulletin.

Silverman was not given the discount, and filed a complaint with the state contending the policy discriminates against him because he is an atheist.

In March, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations filed a statement of charges against the Suns agreeing with Silverman, thereby initiating the process expected to culminate in a public hearing and an administrative law judge's ruling on the matter.

Sullivan said the hearing is scheduled for four days beginning June 28. A site for the hearing has not been determined, but it is expected to be in Washington County.

The judge could rule in favor of the Suns and allow the team to continue the promotion. Or the judge could order the Suns to stop the promotion, pay a fine of up to $500, and order team officials to go to sensitivity training.

The promotion was offered at the Suns' first Sunday home game on April 18. Blenckstone said the team will continue to offer the promotion unless ordered to stop by a judge.

Silverman has also filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Suns in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last August. That lawsuit has been postponed at least until the administrative hearing is done.

The Suns are a Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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