Humanist Group Threatens to Sue YMCA Chapter For Refusing to Provide Booth Space at Spring Festival

Summerville, South Carolina — Under threat of a lawsuit, a humanist group is demanding that a local chapter of the YMCA provide booth space during their upcoming spring festival, despite its assertions that it is a Christian organization.

Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry recently decided to apply to participate in the YMCA Flowerton Festival in Summerville, South Carolina, which will be held in April. However, festival organizers reportedly told the group that the arrangement would not work, stating, “We are a Christian organization.”

In turn, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, a branch of the American Humanist Association, sent a letter to the Summerville Family YMCA demanding entrance. The letter is addressed to Kimberly Howell.

“As you know, on December 10, 2012, Amy Monsky, president of SHL, called you, as the festival’s business and civic coordinator, to apply for a community group booth for the festival,” states the letter, which was mailed last week. “You indicated you were unfamiliar with the group. Monsky then told you SHL is an atheist group. Immediately, thereafter, you told her ‘no.’ … Confused, Ms. Monsky asked you to clarify if you meant ‘No, there would not be a problem,’ and you replied, ‘No, it wouldn’t be okay. We are a Christian organization.'”

The letter goes on to state that Howell later permitted the group to apply, but advised that their inclusion would have to be decided by jury review. After the application was submitted, it was again denied. The Appignani Humanist Legal Center asserted that the denial was illegal because South Carolina state law prohibits discrimination based on religion in places of public accommodation.

“Because of the public and commercial nature of the Festival, YMCA cannot refuse to do business with a customer, such as SHL, on the basis of its religious views,” the group wrote in its letter. “It is clear that SHL’s application was rejected because of the group’s atheist religious beliefs. It is no defense that the YMCA calls itself a Christian organization; in fact, your statement to this effect is damning evidence of religion as the motive for your decision. The public accommodations laws forbid just this sort of discrimination.”

It then threatened to bring suit against the chapter for its refusal.

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“In addition to your flagrant violation of federal law, pursuant to which SHL may bring suit to obtain an injunction to require you to stop refusing to do business with it on a discriminatory basis, your violation of state law is a misdemeanor for which you can be fined up to $2,000 and imprisoned for up to three years,” the letter continued. “If you would like to avoid litigation, please contact me immediately and indicate that you are reversing your refusal to do business with SHL.”

The YMCA, founded in 1844, stands for “Young Men’s Christian Association.” Approximately six years after its establishment, an international conference held in Paris concluded that the objective of the group was “Christian discipleship developed through a program of religious, educational, social and physical activities.”

Representatives of the Summerville YMCA were not available for comment at press time.

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