Last week we told you about the Dallas Fort-Worth Coalition of Reason's tiff with Movie Tavern. Once more, briefly: DFWCoR signed a contract to pay Movie Tavern three grand to show a pro-atheism ad as part of the coalition's new campaign, "Our Families Are Great Without Religion." But Movie Tavern decided sometime in the last couple days that no, they were definitely not showing that ad, that they would never show an ad "of a religious nature," in the words of their spokesperson, and that atheism, per se, has nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Dave Silverman, the president of the American Atheists, isn't buying it. "If the theater is actually discriminating against atheists because they simply don't like us, that's bigotry, it's horrible and it's not something for which we will stand," he told us in a recent phone conversation. But, he added, "the jury is still out over whether they're actually doing that."
His suggestion to Movie Tavern? "I would recommend the theater reverse its decision and allow atheists to put up an ad. It's the civil and American thing to do."
Here's why it's a big deal that Dave Silverman is sounding so cranky: The American Atheists, who are currently based in New Jersey but were founded in Austin by Madalyn Murray O'Hair herself, are themselves a rather big deal. (Silverman even has his very own Internet meme). AA also has a very long history of suing institutions, public and private, that they believe are discriminating against atheists or violating church-state separation.
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Silverman made it clear to us that the AA isn't thinking about suing just yet. But that said, "We have to fix this, OK? The theater is a private organization. They can be bigoted if they want to. There's not a First Amendment issue, or a separation of church and state issue, but there is something called equal protection and antidiscrimination laws in the state of Texas, and we're looking into it."
Silverman wants to send a message to private businesses, he said. "It's important to make sure businesses know that we care when they discriminate against us. Yes, they have the legal right to do so, but it's not something we as atheists are going to laugh off anymore. We're not going to keep quiet and go to the movies anyway. We're going to organize.They can hate blacks too. They can hate Jews. They can discriminate against anyone they want, but that doesn't make it right, that doesn't make it ethical, and it doesn't make it without repercussions."
Silverman said that a protest or a letter-writing campaign is also a possible course of action. As for Movie Tavern's insistence that they've never shown a religious ad before either, he says, rather dryly, "If they don't take religious ads, I'm sure they won't mind giving us their customer list. Bigotry is ugly, and cloaking bigotry in religion doesn't make it more palatable."