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Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Little More Philliness (Wit')

The highly charged dispute over the speak-English sign at Geno's Steaks is about to heat up.

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations notified Geno's owner Joey Vento this week that it has found probable cause that his sign urging patrons to order in English is discriminatory. The next step is to schedule a hearing to settle the dispute or to escalate the charges against the owner of the South Philadelphia sandwich stand.

Vento, who argues that the sign expresses opinions protected by the First Amendment, has enlisted the support of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative public interest law firm in Atlanta that last year won a settlement for an Ohio bar owner who faced similar charges.

"I'm shocked the city is pursuing this," said Albert G. Weiss, Vento's lawyer in Philadelphia. "You'd think they have more important things to deal with."

National news coverage last summer of the controversy brought an outpouring of support for Vento. Weiss said Vento will refuse to remove the sign in his Ninth Street shop that features an American flag and an eagle with the statement: "This is America. When ordering, please speak English."

Vento says he has never actually denied service to any patrons who were unable to communicate in English, and so he can't be prosecuted for discrimination.

The human rights commission apparently is alleging that Vento violated a section of the city's Fair Practices Ordinance that prohibits the owner of a public accommodation from putting up a sign aimed at "any specific group" to make them feel discriminated against or unwelcome.

"A lot hinges on perception," said W. Nick Taliaferro, executive director of the commission.

The Southeastern Legal Foundation last year championed a similar cause in Mason, Ohio, where bar owner Tom Ullum was cited by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for posting a sign that stated: "For Service, Speak English."

The Ohio case went to a hearing in the state capital before the commission dismissed the charges when the complainant dropped her objections, said Todd G. Young, a spokesman for the legal foundation.

Ullum, 65, the bar owner, said in a telephone interview that the case was settled only when he agreed to remove the sign and replaced it with a less objectionable one that did not make it appear that service would be denied to non-English speakers. The new sign reads: "Here We Speak English"

"I finally got fed up with it and signed the damn thing," Ullum said of the settlement.

"It's just a bunch of political stuff," said the bar owner, who said he frequently posts signs expressing his conservative political opinions. "We're just a local blue-collar bar, that's all."

Contact staff writer Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947 or amaykuth@phillynews.com.

The Trekmedic sizzles like a steak sandwich:

This is coming from the same ethic-challenged city government that is:
But one honest businessman makes a (satirical) political statement, and he's violating people's rights? Ah-h-h,...bulls**t!!


At 2:20 PM, Blogger J_G said...

Sorry to say Trek, the only way things will change in Philly if there is a total house cleaning.

I'm behind Joey Vento all the way!Joey helped raise money for the Mayor of Hazleton PA when they passed the illegal immigration regulations up there.

How come the Republican Mayoral only has a hundred bucks in his campaign coffers. I bet most people don't even know there is a Republican cadidate. One party rule in Philly has made the place completely corrupt and completely out of hand.

Now the former Mayor aka Governor wants to raise taxes so more Philly democrats will have more money to spend on Wildwood condos because it looks like Vince Fumo's condo will be up for sale soon.


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