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Suns, ACLU settle dispute

January 11, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The Hagerstown Suns will expand a church bulletin discount promotion to accept bulletins from civic and nonprofit groups under a settlement that ends the baseball club's legal battle with the state and the American Civil Liberties Union, both sides said Tuesday.

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The promotion now will be called Sunday Family Bulletin Day.

As with those who present church bulletins, a family of up to six people will be admitted for the discounted price of $6 if they present a bulletin from a civic or nonprofit group at a Suns' Sunday home game.

The ACLU and the Maryland Commission on Human Relations had said the Suns' church bulletin days promotion violated laws against religious discrimination. They brought such charges against the Suns after agnostic Carl Silverman complained he and his family were charged $8 instead of the discounted $6 when they went to a Suns game without a church bulletin on Easter Sunday 1998.


The case was argued during a hearing before Maryland Administrative Law Judge Georgia Brady in June and July. In October, Brady ruled the Suns' church bulletin promotion was not discriminatory because a Suns ticket taker offered Silverman a church bulletin when Silverman tested the promotion in April 1998.

Brady ruled that under Maryland law it is the implementation, not the advertisement, of a promotion that determines whether it is discriminatory.

The state Human Relations Commission and the ACLU appealed Brady's ruling. They claim Silverman was not offered a bulletin by the ticket taker, and that even if Silverman was offered a bulletin, state law does apply to the advertising of an apparently discriminatory promotion.

The appeal of Brady's ruling, and a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of Silverman, an agnostic, were both dropped under the settlement.

"We consider this a total victory," said Michael D. Berman, a private attorney working with the ACLU on Silverman's case.

"This is exactly what Mr. Silverman has always offered. We wanted a promotion that made all ... feel they had equal access," Berman said.

"We made similar suggestions long before the hearing," he added.

Suns owner Winston Blenckstone said, "They were the ones that asked us to expand (the promotion) and yes we're doing what they asked. But we proved in the hearing that we never discriminated against Mr. Silverman."

Blenckstone said he agreed to settle the matter because you "can't be sure what the future will bring."

"We don't know how the appeal or federal lawsuit would go," he said.

"I don't feel we're compromising. We're expanding a promotion," Blenckstone said.

"People who utilized church bulletins in the past can continue to utilize church bulletins. (Now) if you have a newsletter from the Boys and Girls clubs or the Washington County Arts Council you can use that too," Blenckstone said.

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

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