Wednesday February 27, 2013

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- An atheist organization that invoked religious protections in suing a Michigan country club for cancelling an event said a settlement announced Tuesday was vindication for non-believers.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but the Center for Inquiry said it would receive a payment from Wyndgate County Club to end the suit.

"We are confident it will send a strong message that as much as this country now rejects discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and religion, so must we reject just as strongly discrimination against those with no religion," said Ronald Lyndsay, president and chief executive of CFI.

The Buffalo-based secular organization sued the Rochester Hills, Mich. club last year after it cancelled a 2011 event that was to feature atheist Richard Dawkins, author of the million-selling "The God Delusion."

The country club’s event coordinator told CFI that the owner "does not wish to associate with certain individuals and philosophies" and referred to an appearance by Dawkins on Fox News Channel’s "The O’Reilly Factor," which focused on Dawkins’ atheism, according to the lawsuit in federal court in Michigan.

CFI interpreted the comments to mean the country club did not want to associate with atheists or agnostics. Its lawsuit said the cancellation violated federal and Michigan law prohibiting discrimination in public places because of religion.

"Discrimination because of religion .


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.. includes discrimination on the basis of not having a religion," the lawsuit said.

A lawyer for Golf Course Services, LLC, which operates the Wyndgate, said he could not immediately discuss the case Tuesday.

In 2012 court papers responding to the lawsuit, Golf Course Services and owner Larry Winget acknowledged the event was cancelled but denied discriminating against CFI. They accused CFI of bringing the case for publicity and asked that it be dismissed.

"Of course the majority of businesses welcome the patronage of nonbelievers as much as anyone else," Lyndsay said, "but if one should choose to prejudicially exclude us because of our lack of religious beliefs, we have shown that there will be consequences."