Federal judge rejects Pa. bar owner’s association claim

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

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The city of Reading, Pa., did not violate the First Amendment rights of a restaurant and bar owner who claimed that the city closed his restaurant because it catered to gays. Brian Skiles, owner of Daddy’s Night Club, said city officials denied him a health permit for the facility because they disliked its clientele.

Skiles contended in his federal lawsuit that the permit refusal violated several constitutional rights, including the First Amendment right of association. The opinion said Skiles had alleged anti-gay slurs were used against him by a city inspector.

The First Amendment protects two types of association: intimate and expressive. Intimate association refers to close familial or other intimate bonds, while expressive association refers to gathering for First Amendment-protected expressive purposes, such as speech or religion.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel rejected Skiles’ associational arguments in his Jan. 7 opinion in Skiles v. City of Reading. Stengel reasoned that patrons of a restaurant and bar simply do not form the types of close bonds required for an intimate-association claim.

“Patrons are not connected by personal bonds and are not subject to a high degree of selectivity simply because the establishments ‘cater to’ homosexuals,” he wrote.

Stengel also said restaurant and bar patrons are not engaged in First Amendment-protected expressive activities.“Activities that are purely social in nature and do not implicate moral development, community engagement, religious expression, political discourse, or some civic or cultural purpose are not deserving of constitutional protection under the line of cases defining expressive association,” he wrote.

Stengel relied in part on the 1989 decision Dallas v. Stanglin, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that social dancing did “not involve the sort of expressive association that the First Amendment has been held to protect.”

Because Skiles failed to show that patrons at his restaurant were engaged in intimate or expressive association, Stengel dismissed his First Amendment claim.

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