The New York State Division of Human Rights has begun a probe of a privately owned skating rink that recently advertised a “Christian Music Skate” party. The agency is investigating Len Bernardo and his wife Terry, owners of Skate Time 209 in Accord, New York, apparently because the rink plays Christian music during certain designated hours.
The Division of Human Rights has warned the rink, which also advertises Christian skating on Sunday afternoons, that it may be violating anti-discrimination laws. The agency also threatened to charge a local weekly newspaper that published the rink's advertisement of its Christian music skate with “aiding and abetting” unlawful discrimination. However, pro-family supporters of the rink and its proprietors contend that if anyone is violating the law, it is the government agency.
Len Bernardo says he was contacted by state authorities after his rink's “Christian Skate” event was advertised in the local paper. However, he insists he has done nothing wrong and that the authorities are “just investigating to see if we are in fact, I guess, discriminating against people who don't like Christian music, I assume, or [who don't like] the fact that we're having Christian skate.”
Last week, a complaint about the rink's newspaper ad prompted a letter from the New York State Division of Human Rights. According to Newsday.com, the letter reportedly stated that by soliciting Christian skaters, Skate Time 209 was apparently discouraging non-Christian customers in violation of human rights laws.
Bernardo suspects the Division of Human Rights officials have been laboring under a misapprehension. “We've never denied anybody access to the facility during our Christian skate,” he says. “They're saying perhaps we are doing that because we're playing Christian music.”
In an effort to clarify things, the owners of Skate Time 209 have changed the wording of one newspaper ad from “Christian skate” to “spiritual skate.” Still, Bernardo points out, as the owners, they have every right to play the kind of music they want at their rink.
“We are a private business,” the Christian proprietor says. And the afternoon “Christian skate” is just another program, he insists, just like teen night or family night a time during which wholesome, contemporary Christian music is played and all Christian and non-Christian alike are welcome to come and enjoy it.
And while Bernardo acknowledges that “the other side of the coin is that the state has to react to any complaint that they get,” he says he and Terry are only exercising their basic constitutional rights. That is why they had their lawyer send a letter to the state making it clear that “these are traditional type things, we're not discriminating against anyone, and anyone's allowed access,” he says.
“So now we have to kind of see where it goes,” Bernardo notes. “And chances are, we believe, it will go away,” he adds, “but we still have to defend our rights and our First Amendment rights to have a Christian skate.”
The American Center for Law & Justice is representing the skating rink owners in the matter. Meanwhile, the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) has asked New York's Governor George Pataki to take authority over the investigation and put a stop to the state's “harassment” of the couple.
TVC chairman Rev. Louis P. Sheldon says the Division of Human Rights' threat of legal action against Skate Time 209's owners is crazy. “These people are exercising basic Constitutional rights on private property to the exclusion of no one, and the state government is treating them like dangerous criminals,” he says.
(This article courtesy of Agape Press.)