[UPDATES 1 AND 2 BELOW]
A state chapter of Camp Quest, an organization that runs science camps where kids from secular and religious families mix, had planned a dinner and fundraiser at Oklahoma Joe’s, a local BBQ restaurant. The group communicated with the restaurant weeks ahead of time and made sure that all comers could be accommodated. Oklahoma Joe’s said sure, and even offered to donate 10 percent of the food and beverage proceeds.
Camp Quest Oklahoma then put up flyers and began promoting the dinner on social media, touting Joe’s as the place with the best ribs in the greater Tulsa area. The group was expecting about 50-60 diners/donors to show up.
Today, roughly an hour after the event started, owner Joe Davidson belatedly got wind of the fact that Camp Quest is run by secular people. That was enough to make him change his mind. On the spot, the restaurant canceled the fundraiser and put the following note on the door:
“Everyone except atheists?” asked Camp Quest supporter Nicole Cook on the group’s Facebook page, addressing Davidson and his note. “Is this legal? Do you kick out Jews?”
Those are good questions. I have a call in to both Mr. Davidson and to Camp Quest to try to get some answers, and will update this story if new and pertinent information becomes available.
UPDATE, 11:45 p.m. EST: I just got off the phone with Cindy Cooper, Vice President of Camp Quest Oklahoma.
She confirmed the account above, and added that months ago, Camp Quest volunteers gave the restaurant camp literature and invited the management to visit the group’s website. Cooper also says that the flyer for the event was approved by Davidson’s wife; the flyer makes explicit mention of the organization’s humanist leanings.
That’s true, and that does make it unlikely that Joe Davidson was being completely truthful on Tulsa Fox23 News tonight, when he claimed that the group had misled him about its mission and background.
Though Cooper has already seen a backlash brewing against Oklahoma Joe’s since news of the conflict began filtering out in the early evening — with irate non-theists taking to sites as diverse as Reddit and Yelp to voice their displeasure — she predicts that the kerfuffle will benefit Oklahoma Joe’s.
“This is Oklahoma,” she says. “It’ll probably end up being played like ‘poor Christians being persecuted for their beliefs.’ It wouldn’t surprise me if Christians start visiting the restaurant just to take a stand, like they did with Chick-fil-A.”
The events of Monday night have left her and her colleagues a little rattled, but Camp Quest has no desire to become a pawn in the culture war, says Cooper. “We try to maintain a neutral image, because it’s not about us — it’s about the kids,” she says.
“By the way, we have plenty of Christian children as campers. It wouldn’t occur to us to discriminate against them. I wish it worked the same the other way around.”
Note: My call to Joe Davidson has not yet been returned.
UPDATE 2, 12:30 a.m.: Hemant Mehta has more, including quotes from Joe Davidson (via American Atheists) and, in the comments, an account by an eye witness — one of the Camp Quest diners.