THE WHOLE TRIP UP to Hagerstown, my wife and I debated the central question of our mission on behalf of truth, justice and the American way: Which one of us would get to be the witch and which one the civil libertarian?
We were going to the ballpark in this quiet Western Maryland town, a lovely, unassuming old yard with a box office of Depression-era rough-hewn stone and a tiny press box perched atop the grandstand. It was Sunday, the day of worship, the day of leisure.
To the few hundred other folks who decided to while away their afternoon watching fresh-faced boys play out major league dreams on a minor league field, we looked like fans. But we were really self-appointed magistrates in the court of the culture wars. The battle between reason and faith, between individual rights and the commonweal, had invaded baseball, and we were here to see just how far things had gone.
At Municipal Stadium, home of the Hagerstown Suns, Class A outpost of the Toronto Blue Jays, this was, like all Sundays, Church Bulletin Day.
Which, to the team's owners, was just one more in a long procession of promotions -- Golf Umbrella Giveaway Night, Floppy Cap Day, Business Person's Special.
But then came one Carl Silverman, who does not particularly believe in God and who belongs to no church and who therefore assumed that he was not eligible for the Church Bulletin Day discount, which gets a family of up to six into the ballpark for a total of $6 just for showing their bulletin at the gate. Whereas general admission is $5 for adults and $3 for kids.
This being America, Silverman sued. He got the American Civil Liberties Union on his side, he got a gaggle of lawyers and he got a Jumbo-Pak of publicity.
"Discrimination!" they cried, because Silverman, being an agnostic, couldn't get a church bulletin, which meant he couldn't get the discount, which is, at the very least, un-American.
This was more than a year ago. The courts have been working on it. In the meantime, at every Sunday home game, the Suns have played host to TV crews and others who feed off such controversy. Not a whole lot of actual fans attend the games, and very few of them actually bring a church bulletin, but the few dozen who do certainly enjoy their hefty discount, I can happily report. The Suns are competitive in their division of the South Atlantic League, and they've got a couple of pretty good prospects. The games are gentle fun: A portly magician wears No. 1/2 on his uniform and shoots streamers into the air for the kids. When a 10-year-old boy playing catch with a friend between innings inadvertently tosses his softball onto the playing field, Suns third baseman Jesse Zepeda happily trots over to retrieve the ball and gives the kid a wink and a smile.
But I digress. This is about something even more American than baseball. It's about people exercising their God-given, um, constitutional right to make other folks' lives a living hell because of some minuscule slight that most human beings are too busy scrounging for food and shelter to worry about.
A very nice man at the ACLU in Baltimore, Dwight Sullivan, explained that neither Mr. Silverman nor the ACLU wants to deprive Suns fans of their God-given -- stop that! -- right to discounted tickets. No, all the ACLU wants is for the team to change the name to just plain Bulletin Day, so that any community group's bulletin -- the Rotary, the Kiwanis, your bowling league -- would be good for entry. After all, the mere word "church" might make some people think they would not be accepted.
Hold on, says David Blenckstone, the Suns' general manager. No one is turned away on Church Bulletin Day. They just want fannies in the seats. "Mr. Silverman didn't make any attempt to provide any kind of bulletin," Blenckstone says. "It's none of my business what he believes or doesn't."
So, are all these lawyers, suits in federal and state courts, a year of preparations, legal defense funds and now hearings -- are they all unnecessary? Anyone can enter on Church Bulletin Day? This was a job for your faithful correspondent. Move over John Stossel, time for some real consumer reporting.
Sullivan was eager to help my experiment. He sent me an ACLU bulletin. But he warned: "They might charge you more if you show up with that."
To push the envelope a bit farther, I brought along a bulletin from a witches' coven in Washington. "Witches, Wiccans and Pagans in the District of Columbia," the front page screams. Perfect.
Off we went. My wife played the role of ACLU member; she figured I was the one getting paid for this, I should be the pagan.
And in we went, $6 for the whole clan, bulletins cheerfully accepted. No questions asked.
The lawsuit continues. So do baseball, Chevrolet and apple pie.
Marc Fisher's e-mail address is email@example.com.