- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2024

Attorneys representing pro-Israel Christian group HaYovel said Monday that a hotel near the Nashville International Airport canceled a meeting contract in violation of federal and Tennessee civil rights laws.

First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm in Plano, Texas, told Sonesta Nashville Airport hotel general manager Troy Carver in a letter that legal action could follow if the hotel doesn’t reverse course.

“The baselessness of your invocation of force majeure to breach the Contract bears the unmistakable and distinctly unpleasant odor of … religious discrimination,” Hiram Sasser, the group’s executive general counsel, wrote. “Whether your cancellation of the Summit was carried out due to your own hostility toward HaYovel’s beliefs or serve[d] as a heckler’s veto for others, the result is the same. You have denied HaYovel a public accommodation due to its religious beliefs.”

The hotel agreed in January to host a three-day late May meeting for HaYovel, an American nonprofit. Hotel management abruptly pulled out on Friday, citing security concerns after what it told the charity was a flood of protest calls.

Speakers including former congresswoman Michelle Bachman, Israeli journalist Caroline Glick and Ohad Tal, a member of Israel’s Knesset, are among those confirmed for the HaYovel conference.

In its demand letter to Mr. Carver, Mr. Sasser says the hotel violated Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Tennessee Human Rights Act, both of which cover public accommodations. 

“Failure to provide the written affirmation and fulfill the Contract may result in legal action against the Sonesta and all other responsible parties,” he wrote. 

Luke Hilton, the nonprofit’s marketing director, said 500 people are expected at the event, with roughly 400 having booked rooms at the Sonesta hotel. He said the hotel canceled those reservations as well.

Neither Troy Carver, general manager of the Sonesta Nashville Airport hotel nor the parent company’s public relations firm responded to comment requests.

“This is totally unAmerican and it’s illegal to cancel an event due to the religious beliefs” of an event holder, said Hiram Sasser, an attorney with First Liberty Institute. “Frankly, it’s morally wrong,” he said.

“The problem with this is that we can’t have the Sonesta and others surrendering to terror in violation of federal and Tennessee law,” Mr. Sasser said. “If this hotel chain, if they are just going to surrender to the pro-Hamas terrorists’ beliefs, where’s it going to stop?”

Mr. Sasser said he did not believe the hotel’s claim of a security risk, since HaYovel was willing to ensure additional security for the event.

“It’s really easy to make sure that there’s the appropriate level of security, which HaYovel did,” the attorney said. “If they [Sonesta] feel there’s a need for additional security, HaYovel was happy to work with the police department to add additional off-duty police officers and additional security.”

He said, “What this is really about is, they’re just giving in to these people that will say anything to try to stop anybody who wants to say something positive about Israel.”

Mr. Hilton, speaking from Israel, said the organization is “committed that this event is going to go forward. If we need to, we will hold the event at a different location. Our ideal would be that the Sonesta would honor their contract with us.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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