Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Church of Trump?

In my new satirical novel Trump Card, members of a laughably inept religious cult calling themselves the "Sons of Kek" make repeated failed attempts on my plucky teen heroine's life because she poses a threat to their beloved President Trump. But according to a man named Greg Piatek, his support for Donald Trump really does constitute a religious belief. Piatek is suing a New York City bar for religious discrimination after he was criticized for wearing a Make America Great Again baseball cap and eventually ejected from the establishment.

Piatek claims he spent his time at The Happiest Hour wearing the most controversial hat in the world, the red Make America Great Again baseball cap. According to him, he was called a “terrible person” by one bartender, that another the bartender ignored him, asking if the hat was a “joke” while serving him and yet another cut him off. Ultimately, he alleges, a bouncer kicked him out at the manager’s request. The management at The Happiest Hour denies every part of Piatek's story.

Now, Piatek has slapped the bar with a “discriminatory conduct” lawsuit alleging “anxiety and severe emotional distress,” according to the Gothamist. This he said-they-said legal kerfuffle has taken on religious proportions as the Trump supporter is claiming his reverence for the president — signaled by his red hat — should have the same legal protections as any religion.

"A religious belief can appear to every other member of the human race preposterous, yet still be entitled to protection,” say the legal briefs field on behalf of Piatek. As part of a claimed “protected class,” Piatek was "adhering to his closely held spiritual beliefs by adorning the hat in question,” says his attorney. According to him, the MAGA hat, emblazoned with a logo for a race the highest political office in the nation “transcends the political realm.” Eighty-sixing Piatek, the lawsuit claims, is little different than, say, denying service to a believer because they wore a veil, cross or yarmulke.

As mentioned, the manager of The Happiest Hour denies Piatek’s story, reasoning that he must have had a good time because of his tip noted on the receipts provided. Piatek, however, says the night at The Happiest Hour was “the most discriminatory, humiliating and 'Saddest Hour' of his life."His attorney says his client has "such a good heart that he’s going to tip no matter” the service or discriminatory treatment.

First off, the Constitution is pretty clear that political affiliations and religious beliefs are two entirely separate things. Second, even if Piatek's story is true, the missing piece is how he behaved in response to the bartenders not thinking much of his hat. It seems to me that if Piatek's political affiliation was why he was thrown out, why did the bartenders serve him at all? On the other hand, if he became belligerent or highly intoxicated, the managers of the bar had every right to throw him out.

This would also be true in a more unambiguous case involving religion. Let's say that a fire-and-brimstone preacher showed up at the bar and started arguing with patrons. The preacher in that case would obviously be motivated by religious beliefs, but those beliefs don't confer the right to act out and make other patrons uncomfortable. I have no idea whether Piatek did anything like that, but it's also not clear that any of it happened as Piatek claims.

To be clear, even though I'm about as far from a Trump supporter as you can get, I don't think it's cool for a business to refuse service to someone based only on their political beliefs. At the same time, though, I don't think it rises to the same level as religious discrimination or that it ever should.

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