I saw a tweet over the weekend in my timeline that had me start asking some questions about civil rights. The tweet concerned the ex-Muslims in Houston that were asked to remove the t-shirts they were wearing or leave the premises of a Starbucks located in a Hilton hotel.
The tweet was from Gretchen at Skeptic Review and mentions that the FFRF is inquiring as to the actual reason for these people having to leave the Starbucks. Gretchen has the story at her blog, here. The FFRF letter to the hotel, is here.
Gretchen and I decided to each blog about the incident, coming from possibly different perspectives. There’s no real winner or loser in this debate, just an attempt to lay out the possibilities. Yes, it’s mostly speculation, but right now, that’s all we can do based on the few facts available.
The Civil Rights act of 1964 prohibits any public accommodation from discriminating against individuals based on race, sex, etc., including religion. Is this a case of religious, or in this case non-religious discrimination? At first blush, I’m tempted to say yes, but after reading the story, I’m not so sure.
There was an event at the hotel for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). These ex-Muslims were there handing out flyers promoting their organization, Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA). the hotel and Starbucks believed that these EXMNA members were protesting and desired to avoid any possible confrontation with the ISNA attendees. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
Of course, there’s a of lack of credulity in the article as it states the EXMNA people were sitting quietly, drinking their beverages. What constitutes a protest? Is it, as many in the media would describe, people throwing rocks, breaking windows, setting vehicles alight? No, that’s not a protest, that’s a riot. A protest may be people marching down the street, peacefully, carrying signs, displaying banners, chanting slogans, or even sitting in a coffee bar silently wearing t-shirts that may cause offense to someone else.
Based on what we are aware of right now, it seems to me perfectly reasonable that the hotel and shop management may have concluded, however wrongly, that these people were there for purposes other than just having a coffee break.
I think that sometimes we look for nefarious intentions where none exist. If Gretchen and I were to walk into the same business with t-shirts that were printed with I Am An Atheist, and asked to change our wardrobe or leave, I might be more accommodating to the idea that there is an element of discrimination. Of course the true test would be that a) there wasn’t any religious oriented conference ongoing and b) that neither of us were causing a disturbance, as the EXMNA folks claimed.
I’m also curious as to how this became a story to begin with. Someone had to have called the media. So now, the non-protest looks like…what? At the minimum a cry for attention, claiming discrimination against some former Muslims that were just going about their business, peacefully. i don’t think the story is complete and those in the leadership of EXMNA may need to explain further before attempting to spoil the reputation of a hotel and and coffee shop.
A violation of the Civil Rights Act? At this point, I don’t see it based on the evidence at hand.