ATHEISTS BANNED FROM BANK
Mid-State chief stays group doesn't meet guidelines.
By Danna Dykstra Coy
San Luis Obispo County [California] Telegraph Tribune
Tuesday, May 4, 1993
Reproduced without permission.
A group of atheists has been banned from meeting at Mid-State
Bank after customers, irate about the group's weekend use of
bank conference rooms, threatened to take their business
Mid-State Bank President Carrol Pruett said Monday the bank
received several complaints before the decision was made to
prohibit the San Luis Obispo chapter of Atheists United from
using conference rooms.
Pruett said the complaints had nothing to do with the bank's
decision. He said the group just doesn't meet the bank's
unwritten criteria for the types of organizations allowed access
to meeting rooms after bank hours.
As a courtesy to the community, Mid-State Bank has allowed
non-profit, civic organizations to use conference rooms free of
charge for [the past] 25 years.
Currently five of the bank's 14 branch offices in the county
make conference rooms available to civic and community
"In all that time we've never had a problem," said Pruett,
Members of the atheist group said they believe the ban is
discriminatory and have lodged a complaint with the District
Attorney's Office which is looking into the matter.
"If they're going to be open to the public, they should be open
to the entire public," said Kathryn Bay, past chairperson of
Hank Alberts, local representative for the American Civil
Liberties Union, said Monday he was aware of the bank's action
and had passed information on to the ACLU's Los Angeles office.
"The issue is whether a private business can offer a part of the
premises to one group and not another," Alberts said, "whether a
private, as opposed to public institution, can discriminate
Alberts said he didn't know the answer.
"But my personal view, even though I am a strong ACLU member, is
that they (Mid-State) had the right to do what they did. Maybe
I'm wrong. We'll wait and see."
Until February, the 12 to 15 members of Atheists United met
monthly at branch offices in San Luis Obispo. They met in 1992
and in January and February of this year.
However, they learned in a Feb. 19 telephone conversation with a
bank official that they could no longer meet at any Mid-State
Pruett, in explaining why the atheists were initially allowed to
meet, said, "Nobody paid attention."
He said the bank has no screening process for organizations
which ask to use meeting rooms. There is no written policy.
However, the groups are "broad-based" and non-profit.
Pruett said to his knowledge no church groups use the rooms.
"We at the bank have a very thorough understanding of the Civil
Rights Act," Pruett said. "We are very supportive of that
effort. We ensure all departments are making all financial
services equal to all customers."
"But when the issue is our internal banking rooms, which is not
an advertised service, we believe it's subject to the right of
the bank's (descretion)."
Pruett said the problems started when the atheist group been
publicizing meetings at the bank in the newspaper and on a local
cable television channel.
"If they hadn't publicized this so much, this never would've
Peggy Koteen, treasurer for Atheists United, said the group now
pay $10 to meet in the City/County Library conference room. But
the money isn't the issue.
During the meetings, the group writes letters to legislators
protesting the use of tax dollars to finance religious services,
such as chaplains in Congress. They discuss legal issues
pertaining to separation of church and state.
They believe they qualify for the bank's criteria of being "broad
based and non-profit."
Pruett said with the publicity, he anticipates the bank will
change its procedures.
"The inclination is to stop allowing anyone to use the rooms,"
he said, "which is unfortunate."
Note: The reporter screwed up and started referring to
Ms. Pruett as "he" throughout the article)
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
P. O. Box 112
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Mid State Bank
P. O. Box 6001
Arroyo Grande, CA 93421
Write them and express how you feel about this!