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Basketball fans with religious ties offered cheaper tickets at Cal U

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Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012

Church affiliation got fans a $2 discount at California University of Pennsylvania's basketball games on Friday night.

While the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education does not ban religious promotions at its 14 universities, a civil liberties advocate called it "discriminatory," and officials at other universities said they would not offer discounts to religious groups.

Cal U offered the discount at yesterday's matchup of its women's and men's basketball teams against Millersville University as part of "Faith and Family Night."

"Anyone attending from area churches will be admitted to both games for one $3 ticket -- just mention the church affiliation," states a press release about the event. General admission for others was $5, said Christine Kindl, spokeswoman for Cal U.

"We're trying to find as many different ways as we can to introduce as many different people as we can to what we have going on in our new (Convocation Center)," Kindl said. "(Religion) is a big part of the community in this area, and so that's one of many different kinds of promotions."

Kindl said fans could mention affiliation with any faith-based organization, not just churches, to get the discount. The university will offer similar discounted tickets to youth basketball coaches, first responders and veterans groups at basketball games, she said.

Kenn Marshall, media relations manager for the Pennsylvania state school system, said the promotion does not raise a legal issue because Cal U is offering a variety of promotions to different groups.

A civil liberties advocate based in Pittsburgh called the promotion "discriminatory."

"They can't say that people of faith are going to get a discount, just as they can't say white people are going to get a discount," said Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Religion legally falls into a protected class, making it different from offering discounts to other community groups, he said.

"So people who are atheists or don't belong to a church can't take advantage of this benefit• It's discrimination against people who do not belong to a particular faith community," Walczak said.

Randall Wenger, chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which promotes traditional family values, said religious faith has long been a part of public life and the promotion gave people another context to get to know others in their community.

"If we relegate religion to one of those things that can't be mentioned in public, then it's really taking a large part of our tradition and who we are as people and obscuring that," Wenger said.

Officials at other state universities said they have not offered discounts to church members.

"As a state university, I don't know that we would be able to (do that)," said Janet Kacskos, director of communications for Millersville. She said the school has given other groups, such as Little League teams, discounted or free tickets to sporting events, but never church groups.

"I don't think it's something we would consider, no," said Mike Powers, a spokesman for Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Karl Schwab, a Slippery Rock University spokesman, said he'd "be very surprised if we, as a university, did that."

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