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Suns say church bulletin promotion loosely defined

June 30, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

In the third and possibly final day of testimony in the Hagerstown Suns Church Bulletin Days promotion discrimination hearing Wednesday, the Suns tried to reinforce their argument that the promotion isn't discriminatory because it is so loosely defined that anyone can take advantage of it.

Suns owner Winston Blenckstone testified that someone could simply write "nonreligious" on a blank piece of paper and that would qualify as a church bulletin.

Blenckstone said that a broad definition of church bulletin has always been in effect.

According to previous testimony from both sides, however, Waynesboro, Pa., resident Carl Silverman wasn't told of that option when he complained about the promotion on Easter Sunday 1998.

On that day, April 12, 1998, Silverman, who did not present a church bulletin, demanded that he and his two daughters be let into a Suns' game for the discounted price of $6. The discount is given to groups that bring a church bulletin to Sunday games.

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Silverman was turned down and paid $8 for tickets for himself and his daughters.

During Wednesday's hearing, Michael Berman, one of Silverman's lawyers, asked Blenckstone whether he would go to a Ku Klux Klan meeting just to get one of their bulletins and then use that bulletin to get a discount on admission.

Blenckstone said he would not do that because he does not agree with the views of the Klan.

In earlier testimony, Silverman said he would not present a church bulletin because he is agnostic, and does not agree with the views of any church.

The hearing is tentatively scheduled to reconvene July 9 or July 29, at which time both sides will have the opportunity to present closing arguments.

There is a possibility the Suns will call additional witnesses in an attempt to prove that people affiliated with Silverman conducted "tests" on the Suns to see if the team would accept non-Christian bulletins.

Suns lawyer Joseph A. Schwartz III said he believes such tests were done and that the Suns passed those tests.

Schwartz said that if the hearing can be concluded around July 9, a ruling on the matter probably would be made before the end of July.

The Maryland Commission on Human Relations, which charged the Suns with discrimination based on Silverman's claims, is seeking a court order to force the Suns to stop the 6-year-old promotion. It also wants the Suns to pay a $500 civil penalty, provide sensitivity training for team officials, and provide discounted tickets for people like Silverman who didn't previously get the discount.

Commission lawyer Patricia Wood asked if the state could add to the list an order to make the Suns stop wearing halo patches on their uniforms.

The patches were put on home uniforms this season as a way to show appreciation for fans' support of the Church Bulletin promotion, the team has said.

Administrative Law Judge Georgia Brady, who is presiding over the hearing, declined Wood's request.

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