Sunday, July 22, 2012

Churches are private property

By Mathew Goldstein

Many of the people who advocate for current edition church bulletin discounts at retail stores incorrectly claim that such discounts discriminate against no one because anyone can stop by a local church and obtain a church bulletin. While it may sometimes be possible for someone to fetch a church bulletin from a church, it should be obvious that a mere possibility for someone to obtain a current church bulletin is not sufficient to make such discounts non-discriminatory. There is no legal enforcement mechanism to ensure that anyone can always fetch a church bulletin published by any particular church. A church is private property. No church can be legally compelled to print more bulletins than there are church members, let alone to print enough bulletins for the entire town and make their bulletins available to the general public. A church could promise in a statement made in court or in public to make its bulletin available to the general public and then immediately renege on that promise with no legal consequences. Statements from churches that their bulletins are available to the general public are empty and misleading posturing because they are unenforceable.

Church bulletin discounts are attractive to small business owners because they cost less than paying for advertisements and because the income loss risk to the retailer is lower than for a discount offered unconditionally to all customers. Businesses that want to offer discounts for church bulletins arguably can do so legally provided that they publicly extend the discount generally to published current edition periodicals representing any perspective regarding religions, including religion belief dissenter groups such as secular humanism and atheism. However, even that is dubious because it assumes an active interest related to this particular topic, thereby discriminating against those without such an active interest. It is better to offer discounts to all customers, including those who do not subscribe to any religion belief topic related periodical. It is also OK for retailers to pay for coupons in church bulletins provided that this is done simultaneously with placing the same coupons in locally available publications that do not endorse particular religion related beliefs. Giving discounts exclusively to customers who present church bulletins, or a coupon that is only available from church bulletins, is religion based price discrimination and therefore is illegal.

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