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Streeter v. Brogan

Decided: February 8, 1971.

PETER STREETER, GEORGE H. PFIRRMAN AND WARREN ABRAMSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WILLIAM BROGAN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND T/A CIRCLE SUNOCO SERVICE, AND SUN OIL COMPANY, A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS



Furman, J.s.c.

Furman

The issue before the court is whether plaintiffs and other members of the class whom they represent are entitled to an injunction against defendant Brogan, who refused to sell them gasoline because they displayed the so-called peace symbol on their cars.

The facts are stipulated. The peace symbol is thus [Illegible word]. It is in wide currency among persons opposed to the war in southeast Asia, constituting a cross-section of the public of diversified religious, nonreligious and anti-religious views.

Defendant Brogan is a disabled combat veteran of the Korean War. He has a stepson now serving in the United States Marines. After research into its origins he formed the conviction that the peace symbol is anti-Christ and atheistic, as well as the symbol of cowardice and capitulation. He posted a large sign at the gasoline service station of which he is proprietor under lease from defendant Sun Oil Company, located on U.S. Highway 1 and 9 in Woodbridge Township. The sign identified the peace symbol as the symbol of hate and anti-Christ. The township board of adjustment subsequently ordered its removal.

Plaintiffs and others, about 14 persons in all, drove several cars displaying the peace symbol into defendant Brogan's gasoline service station and demanded gasoline on September 3, 1970. Their purpose in displaying the peace symbol was to express their opposition to the war in southeast Asia. Defendant Brogan refused them service. When plaintiffs and those with them declined to leave the premises without being supplied with gasoline, defendant Brogan summoned the township police. The police ordered plaintiffs and the others off the premises under threat of arrest.

U.S. Highway 1 and 9 is a main highway artery traversing New Jersey. Within a half-mile radius of defendant Brogan's there are approximately 12 other gasoline service stations.

Plaintiffs found their cause of action for a permanent injunction under New Jersey and federal civil rights statutes, New Jersey and Woodbridge Township licensing requirements for gasoline service stations and the common law.

The New Jersey statute of 1945, as amended (N.J.S.A. 10:1-3), provides:

No owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee of any such place shall directly or indirectly refuse, withhold from, or deny to, any person any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof, or directly or indirectly publish, circulate, issue, display, post, or mail any written or printed communication, notice of advertisement to the effect that any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any such place shall be refused, withheld from, or denied to, any person on account of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status or sex, or that the patronage or custom thereat of any person belonging to or purporting to be of any particular race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, marital status or sex, is unwelcome, objectionable or not acceptable, desired or solicited.

The Federal Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a(a)) provides:

All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

Defendant Brogan's gasoline service station is by definition (N.J.S.A. 10:1-5; 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a(b)(2)) a place of public accommodation subject to the state act and a place of public accommodation whose operations affect commerce subject to the federal act.

Indisputably, neither civil rights act, state or federal, bars discrimination based upon political views. Thus, insofar as defendant Brogan refused service because plaintiffs were expressing opposition to the war in southeast Asia he was not in violation of the civil rights acts. Cf. Garifine v. Monmouth Park Jockey Club, 29 N.J. 47 (1959).

Plaintiffs argue that pacifism or opposition to war is a firm, consistent ethical belief, rising to the stature of a creed and within the protection of N.J.S.A. 10:1-3. This argument is blocked on the law and facts. No reported opinion has construed "creed" in N.J.S.A. 10:1-3 or "religion" in 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a(a) as encompassing a moral or ethical creed apart from a formal religious creed. In addition, defendant Brogan refused service to ...


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