Apr
16

Fan files suit over ‘God Bless America’ incident

By

Ever few months, the Yankees’ continued playing of “God Bless America” and their enforcement of the song uncomfortably creeps back into the news. We discussed this topic nearly two years when The Times got wind of complaints about the Yanks’ ushers’ behavior during the song, and last year, Bradford Campeau-Laurion made headlines when police ejected him from the stadium for going to the bathroom as the song began.

Yesterday, on the eve of the opening of new Yankee Stadium, Campeau-Laurion and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Yankees, the City of New York and the New York Police Department for their actions during that August 26 game.

The complaint — available here as a PDF and now sitting on the docket of a judge from my alma mater — alleges a variety of Constitutional, federal and state law violations. Campeau-Laurion contends that police aggressively evicted him from the stadium when he got up to the go to the bathroom. The police contended in August — and reiterated to The Times’ Sewell Chan — that Campeau-Laurion was anything but civil.

While the facts focus around that incident, the causes of action focused around the general policies of the Yankees and their use of Paid Detail cops in enforcing it. The complaint alleges First and Fourteenth Amendment violations. Specifically, the NYCLU contends that the Yankees are violating fans’ First Amendment rights by abridging fans’ rights to freedom of religion and freedom of political speech.

The case also claims rough treatment on the part of the cops in violation of Campeau-Laurion’s Fourth Amendment rights. Allegedly, one of the officers, after forcibly ejecting the fan from Yankee Stadium, told him to “get out of the country if he didn’t like ‘it.’”

In addition to compensatory damages, Campeau-Laurion is asking for the the federal court to issue an injunction stopping the Yanks from enforcing their No Movement policy during “God Bless America.” As a law student and Yankee fan, I’ll be following this case. I wonder how the various parties will respond.

And a postscript: If the Cubs’ series is any indication, Kate Smith and “God Bless America” made the trip across 161st St.

A note on comments: I realize this is a politically sensitive topic. I didn’t express my views on here, and I know that Yankee fans will come down on both sides of this issue. Debate the story, but do it respectfully. Don’t attack anyone’s political beliefs. Everyone is entitled to their own views and opinions.

Categories : Yankee Stadium

58 Comments»

  1. Jbrew says:

    If your political beliefs are really that strong, then you should not be buying a ticket. Evryone is, or can be, aware of this ‘tradition’ at Yankee Stadium. This is obviously a grandstanding play to get into the Yankee pocket.

    • Matt says:

      If your political beliefs are really that strong, then you should not be buying a ticket

      This is an absolutely ridiculous statement. I have incredibly strong political beliefs but, generally, they have nothing to do with the Yankees or baseball as a whole.

    • Muel says:

      I couldn’t disagree with you more. Buying a ticket to a Yankee game is for a game of baseball, not for a political rally or religious gathering, regardless of whether you believe in Mo or not. Further, a german citizen friend of mine was yelled and screamed at through harsh language by fans for he did not remove his hat during god bless america (he was unfamiliar with the custom). Unfortunately, he was forced to remove his hat, for he felt threatened, to say the least. I forgot to tell him buying a ticket is the same as signing a waiver forfeiting free speech.

    • Chris says:

      “Tradition?” 7+ years does not = tradition. It seems like this was put into place as the Boss got into his declining, overly sentimental years, and I have personally never cared for it beyond the initial post-9/11 era.

      The actual religious aspect of the song never bothered me, as much as the heavy handed way in which they use the song and enforce their no-movement policy. Does the song even carry any real emotional weight, like I think it may have in the period after 9/11? Aside from the religious connotation it carries, how is it supposed to differ from the Star Spangled Banner? What point is that song driving home that the national anthem misses? Are the Yankees trying to say they’re more patriotic than other teams? The point has been somewhat lost on me as time has passed, and it seems just like a “mock tradition” replacing a real one “Take me out to the ballgame.”

      • Linda says:

        A little historical note for Chris, the Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key describing a defining moment in our country’s very young history. In the early 1800′s the British made a last ditch effort to try and take our country back…and failed. The word’s of our national anthem beautifully capture the emotion of the event “…gave proof through the light that our flag was still there…”. The national anthem describes the strength of our nation. “God Bless America” is from the heart of the people, asking God to watch over this land that we love so dearly. All the spouting about the lack of ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘heavy handed ways…’, the simple solution, come into the stadium after they yell “play ball”. As for the rest of us who still thank God for all of our blessings (and by the way my husband has been out of work since December and still loves God and his country), a moment of respect at the beginning of a ballgame is pretty wonderful.

  2. WhizzoTheWize says:

    Whizzo believes complementary adult diapers after the 6th inning would solve the promlem.

  3. A.D. says:

    Trying to remember if I’ve every really seen people moving around during God Bless America. I feel like it happens but no distinct memory.

    My guess is both sides (i.e. security & the individual) said & did some things that shouldn’t have happened.

  4. Stryker says:

    maybe i’m off base with this – but this guy got ejected from the stadium for going to the bathroom during what should be the 7th inning stretch? that’s pretty ridiculous.

  5. maverico says:

    check out the video of him talking, interesting things to say…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKFtK3emj38

  6. Peter Lacock says:

    I file this under the Torre book, anything to do with Selena Blowberts and Suck Me Illustrated,

  7. mko says:

    If the ushers and policemen at the stadium really close down the aisles and prevent people from moving around – that’s pretty unbelievable. I’m shocked…

  8. Rob in CT says:

    1. I don’t like the song. I find it irritating.
    2. Even if I did like the song – even if the song was the National Anthem, for instance (which I do like) – if a guy goes to the bathroom at that time, so what? You can give him a dirty look if you want. Going beyond that is creepy psuedo fascism.

    I remember one time I was at this Country line dance bar (don’t ask), and they played the Anthem. A friend and I were playing pool and honestly didn’t hear it start. So we’re playing and chatting. Somebody yells at us to shut up & respect the anthem.

    Ok, sure. My bad, no prob buddy. The anthem finishes, and I happen to look up. Directly over my head is a massive Confederate Battle Flag. Yeah, baby. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. :lol:

  9. steve (different one) says:

    couple of points:

    the part of the lawsuit about stopping the “no movement” policy? if that really is the policy, it is silly and should be stopped.

    the part of the lawsuit that claims a violation of “freedom of religion”? completely absurd and distracts from central issue by politicizing an issue that didn’t need to be.

    the issue is the (alleged) behavior of the security staff and the ridiculous “no movement” policy.

    the Yankees are a private business. if they want to play GBA, they have that right. just as you have the right to not support a business that plays GBA. this isn’t a public school.

    • random says:


      the Yankees are a private business. if they want to play GBA, they have that right. just as you have the right to not support a business that plays GBA. this isn’t a public school.

      This isn’t about them playing it or not, its about them forcing people to stand at attention for it.

      What if they were kicking out everyone with brown skin. Would you say ‘thats their right, private buisness just don’t support them’.
      Obviously an extreme example, but being a private buisness does not allow you to discriminate or somehow gain full authority over your customers.

      • steve (different one) says:

        This isn’t about them playing it or not, its about them forcing people to stand at attention for it.

        yes, i think the policy is absurd and should be changed.

        the part that i was objecting to was the lawsuit claims “religious discrimination”, and i don’t see it as that.

        i see it as overzealous patriotism. if it were the National Anthem, or America the Beautiful, i believe the officers would have acted the same way.

        my point is that focusing on the “God” part of song adds an angle to the lawsuit that i don’t believe is all that relevant.

        that’s all i am saying.

        i agree forcing people to stand in their seats during GBA is ridiculous.

        one thing i do have to add though, and this is unrelated to the lawsuit, is that the FANS enforce this BS as much as the team does. if you don’t remove your hat or stand during the anthem, you will be yelled at. the lawsuit even states that the policy came about b/c fans were “angered” by the “lack of respect” and complained to Steinbrenner, who added the policy.

        • random says:

          I agree with you about the religious discrimination part. I guess I took your last line to reference everything and not just that part of the description, my bad.

          You’re right about the fans enforcing it too. I was at a game last year and didn’t remove my hat and got a friendly reminder from a few rows back. Not being sarcastic about the friendly part but I just took it off I didn’t really care.

          • Marsha says:

            I could never understand why the hat removal thing caught on. God Bless America is not The Star Spangled Banner. If it is customary to remove one’s hat during the national anthem, so be it. But why should that extend to God Bless America? And while I’m on the subject, the Yankees should just put a halt to it. Other ball parks do not do it. It demeans the tradition of the 7th inning stretch and it does not add to any feelings of patriotism (if that’s what it is trying to evoke).

        • Jesse G. says:

          I think the religious discrimination (in the sense of discriminating against those who aren’t religious or are atheists) part of things is not ridiculous because they are alleging that police officers are the ones who enforced this policy. If it were just security guards it would be one thing but this is a whole other story.

    • Glen L says:

      Yankee stadium isn’t simply a private place in the eyes of the law – its a quasi-public/private place (especially given all the tax free bonds the City of NY gave them) … You don’t simply give up your constitutional rights by entering Yankee Stadium. It may not be public school, but its not the neighborhood bar either.

  10. jsbrendog says:

    weird, i was at the first cubs exhibition game and my friend and i took the god bless america time to go pee as it was perfect.

    ironically enough as we were going i said how i didnt like how they still played it every game because it gets old and to me doesn’t have anything to do with baseball. he responded with really? i like it. and that was that.

    but no one tried to stop us from going to the bathroom, esp nto the 4 cops standing right by the entrance to our section. now is this because we were ground level hobnobbing with the rich people? CLASSISM!!!!!!! POOR PEOPLE CANT PISS!!!

  11. random says:

    1. Who gives a shit? Its not like these people were disrupting other fans. The Yankees and politics have nothing to do with each other. As long as youre not disrupting anyone else you should be able to do what you wish. Ridiculous.

    2. Ben, you don’t want to give your opinion which is fine, but how about some perspective as a future lawyer? Is this suit valid? I would assume so, but then again there is probably some fine text on every ticket saying they have the right to boot you for any reason. But I know that doesn’t protect things like racism, sexism etc, so I was wondering where you think this would fall.

  12. Colombo says:

    Unfortunately, no matter what anyone’s personal opinion on this matter is, I don’t think that it legally has any grounds. Looking at an old ticket I keep in my wallet (last years Opener. I’m cheesy like that) I see on the back that “The Yankees reserve the right, with or without refunding the face value of the Ticket, to revoke the license, refuse admission, or eject any person whose conduct is deemed by the Yankees to be disorderly, who uses abusive language, who fails to comply with the terms or conditions…”

    Basically, its the Yankees house, and they can do as they please if they determine your actions to be “disorderly”.

    • random says:

      Yes but that doesn’t give them carte blanch.

      For example they still cant discriminate based on race, religion or sex.

      Can you honestly argue the bathroom guy was being “disorderly”? Or is he being targeted for politcal views?

      I don’t know enough off hand to tell whether it is valid legally or not, but it seems very boarderline to me.
      Legality aside, it was a douche move by the security gaurds.

    • Ross says:

      Terms and Conditions can be set by the organization, but they can also be challenged legally if they are deemed unlawful or unconstitutional. I think it’s clear on its face that anything along the lines of “You cannot move from a standing position within 2 feet of your assigned chair from 8:40 to 8:43,” which is essentially what the policy amounts to, is unlawful. The political (patriotism) and religious (God bless) motivations for the policy are completely incidental and trivial, but certainly do serve to muddle what the actual complaint is.

  13. zack says:

    I have to say, I am impressed with both the tone and level headedness of the comments thus far. Lohud its not, of course.

    It seems pretty clear that no matter how much you may like the song, love the country, or the opposite, the overwhelming majority of people, at least here and elsewhere I have seen it discussed, find it at the very least stupid to prevent fans from using the bathroom when they wish or, for that matter, forcing them into performative demonstrations of patriotism. Its not like by saying and doing enough times anyone is better than anyone else, and its not a baseball game is the place for political statements.

    But, on the other hand, is anyone really surprised with the way the Yankees and their pseudo-fascist security detail have been treating most of their fans?

    • Colpo says:

      Spot-on views, zack – well said. Sadly, the Yanks’ stance is not at all surprising. Coming from a fan here: “Get over yourselves.”

  14. Colpo says:

    I’m sorry, but the Yanks are off-base here and deserve to get picked off on a snap throw off a called 3rd strike. Not only is the continued insistence to play “GBA” during the stretch jingoistic and redundant (We already had the Anthem at the start, ‘member?), but the Kate Smith recording sounds like it was drawn off a USO radio broadcast from the ’40s. Most importantly, though, the idea that a paying stadium customer can’t use the head, reload with food or bevs, or just take a walk during the song sounds Iron Curtain-ish. The beauty of America is its supposed tolerance for all views, especially those (gasp!) we don’t agree with. With all due respect here, just who do the Yanks mgmt. (and this is coming from a 30+ year fan) think they are?

    • Matt says:

      but the Kate Smith recording sounds like it was drawn off a USO radio broadcast from the ’40s.

      Thank you. I don’t like the playing of the song either, but if they’re going to, couldn’t they get a better quality recording?

      • jeremy says:

        Personally, if they have to play a song about America during the 7th inning stretch, I’d much rather hear Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful”… while walking around the concourse http://riveraveblues.com/wp-in.....on_lol.gif

        • Jesse G. says:

          So true. I have been campaigning (not so intently) for Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful” to replace the national anthem but I would be fine if it just replaced “God Bless America” which isn’t even a good song.

      • desus says:

        the kate smith recording sounds like a 96k mp3. The Ronan Tynan version is impressive in person if u ever catch it.

        Did the Yanks playing God Bless America start after 9/11 or did they always do it?

    • Count Zero says:

      Most importantly, though, the idea that a paying stadium customer can’t use the head, reload with food or bevs, or just take a walk during the song sounds Iron Curtain-ish. The beauty of America is its supposed tolerance for all views, especially those (gasp!) we don’t agree with.

      +1

  15. johnny says:

    the first time I went to a game with God Bless America, I tried to go to the bathroom during and also not permitted. I turned around and saw the flag waving majestic on the big screen and wondered if thats what ballgames looked like in Cuba, or Hockey in old Soviet Russia, with everyone forced to salute the fatherland.

    It’s just too much, we already sing the national anthem at the beginning of the game. To be honest, I wish we could go back to the old days of Take Me Out to The Ballgame.

  16. johnny says:

    colpo said:
    just who do the Yanks mgmt. (and this is coming from a 30+ year fan) think they are?

    actually starting with the boss, they are very politically involved, and their associations are quite conservative. So the nationalist, patriotic front(and it is a front) is not that surprising. yeah, wave the F###ing flag George. that should make up for not paying taxes and taking the money and running on unfulfilled navy contracts(true story, the rotting unfinished hulls of some dozen ships or so are still sitting in one of his shipyards in florida)

    sorry folks I had to

  17. Kiko Jones says:

    Man, have I been lucky: I’ve gone to the bathroom during “GBA” at EVERY SINGLE GAME I’ve attended since 2005 and never been bothered. (I may have gotten a look or two by fellow fans, but whatever, it’s hot dog time. heh, heh)
    And yeah, “we already sing the national anthem at the beginning of the game. To be honest, I wish we could go back to the old days of Take Me Out to The Ballgame.”

    Absolutely.

  18. bebop says:

    I find GBA an upleasant song with its implied and fuck the rest of the world. It should be God Bless Everyone. And of course America the Beautiful is a thousand times more beautiful and inspiring.

  19. bebop says:

    And America is great because people can pick and choose their own patriotic symbols and totems

  20. Dan says:

    Here’s a little law. Only state actors can violate the 1st and 14th Amendments. The Yankees are by no means state actors.

    I’ve done a good deal of 1st Amendment cases, but this one is an embarassment and demeans the important work on 1st Amendment issues.

    • Sure. Except that the Yankees are playing in a state-owned building, and the NYPD — definitely a state actor — is named as one of the defendants in the case.

      I know you’re a lawyer, and I’m still just in law school, but I think this complaint would survive that challenge.

  21. Mike P says:

    If the song is meant to remind us of September 11th, which is the only reasonable argument to keep it in my opinion, why not just replace it with a minute’s silence before the first pitch of the half-inning?

    I think if the Yankees want to make a statement, it should be completely unambiguous and proactive. The current song and no movement policy leaves a lot to interpretation. That’s why some folk seem to think it’s like the national anthem. Maybe it does to them, but to me it’s just another song about America.

    If they were to do this, I think some of the people who ‘enforce’ the no movement policy might get fed up.

  22. Dan says:

    No. The Plaintiffs would have to show that the Yankees and the government were so entangled that the Yankees were a state actor. They would have to show the the Yankees history, mandate and leadership are so tied up with the government that it should be deemed an agency or instrumentality of local, and therefore state government. This is not going to happen.

    Second, they could try to argue that relationship between the Yankees and the City and the County is so deeply symbiotic as to make the Yankees a state actor. Both of these arguments turn on the amount of control exercised over the Stadium and events by the state. Neither is likely to work.

    Finally, they could try the public function test, claiming that the Yankees exercise powers traditionally exclusive to the perogative of the state. However, I don’t think activities within the Stadium are going to fall within this either.

    Ultimately, this case likely dies by summary judgment.

  23. Dan says:

    Of course, this analysis is limited to the Yankees.

  24. [...] entering the concourse during the daily rendition of God Bless America. In April we learned of a fan filing suit against the team. Today we learn the [...]

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