A Hat-Based Faith

Some people are criticized for wearing their hearts on their sleeves, that is, showing off their emotional sensitivity.

Others, like Greg Piatek, wear their politics on their heads, showing off their ideological leanings, and there are those who don’t appreciate that either.

Piatek, a Philadelphia accountant, was ejected from a Manhattan bar in January 2017 for refusing to remove his MAGA (Make America Great Again) cap. Some of you may remember the $25 headgear then-president-elect Donald Trump had made popular (and unpopular) at the time.

The bar manager allegedly told him that “Anyone who supports Trump or believes what you believe is not welcome here! And you need to leave right now because we won’t serve you!” Make America great again, if you want to, but not around here.

Piatek, who claimed the incident “offended his sense of being an American,” retaliated with a lawsuit against the establishment, seeking unspecified damages to compensate for the insult. More specifically, he charged that he was discriminated against for his beliefs.

He lost. A few days ago, after just 45 minutes of legal arguments, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice David Cohen dismissed the claim.

While it is true that businesses that serve the public may not discriminate against people on the basis of race or religion, Piatek’s claim that his enthusiasm for President Trump was similarly a creed deserving of protection under the law was rejected.

The back-and-forth in the courtroom reportedly went like this:

After the plaintiff’s lawyer, Paul Liggieri, asserted that Piatek was asserting his “spiritual belief” by wearing his MAGA cap, the judge asked:

“How many members are in this spiritual program that your client is engaged in?”

“Your honor, we don’t allege the amount of individuals,” Liggieri answered.

“So, it’s a creed of one?” the judge asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Liggieri replied.

He further explained that “at the time [Piatek] wore his hat, the election of President Trump was over and therefore [he] had no reason to wear the hat for any political purpose. Rather, [he] wore his hat to pay tribute to the fallen heroes and victims of Sept. 11, 2011 [he arrived at the bar directly from a visit to Ground Zero].

“[His] practice of wearing his hat to pay spiritual tribute was a part of his creed,” Liggieri said.

Defense lawyer Elizabeth Conway countered that “supporting Trump is not a religion; whether you believe it very sincerely, it’s not. He doesn’t allege that he has some sort of belief system that he follows in his everyday life and his hat is sort of an example of that.”

Judge Cohen accepted her reasoning and concluded that the incident amounted to nothing more than a “petty slight.” Case dismissed.

Clearly, the ruling was right. Piatek’s hat-based faith did not qualify as a religious belief in the conventional sense at all. And it was specious to seek to equate his treatment, however unpleasant, with discrimination against a person’s religion.

The MAGA case, in which one man tried to elevate his deeply-held patriotic feelings to the status of religion, was dismissed in less than an hour as a frivolous contention. The judge said, in effect, that there is no such thing. Faith is faith and politics is politics.

And since political affiliations are not protected by the anti-discrimination statutes, the management had a right to eject the offense-giving headgear and the man under it from the premises.

But it works both ways. They may not have technically broken the law, but it doesn’t mean they were right in doing what they did.

There was no excuse for insulting a man because of his politics. (It was also alleged that the bartender asked Piatek if it was “a joke,” and that he “slammed” his drinks down on the bar.)

The management, which presumably prides itself on a liberal and tolerant attitude, should be capable of practicing tolerance even to someone whose political opinions differ from their own.

Even in situations where the law does not require it, a certain forbearance is called for in a democracy. To behave otherwise is to offend one’s sense of being an American.