NEW YORK (Dec. 10)
The Exxon Corp. has so far been unable to convince a Pensacola, Fla., gas station owner to remove a sign that advertises a 10 percent discount on labor to “those whom Jesus loves.”
The sign replaces an advertisement posted in November by the owner of the Cordova Mall Exxon station, Jerry Harrison, 45, which read, “Notice: For Christians only, 10 percent discount on labor.”
According to a spokesman for Exxon’s consumer and regulatory affairs office in Houston, Harrison changed the original wording of the sign after the oil company informed his attorney, Paul Shimek, that they would commence legal action under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The corporation has not yet received a response to a letter written to Shimek requesting removal of the second sign, and is “reconsidering legal options,” said the spokesman.
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, meanwhile, has filed complaints with the Florida attorney general’s office, the U.S. Justice Department and the state attorney in Escambria County. All are investigating whether the sign violates local, state and federal laws regulating discriminatory advertising and fair trade practices.
“In Florida, you may not post an advertisement that suggests a person is unwelcome in your place of business because of his religion,” said Arthur Teitelbaum, Southern area director of the ADL.
‘CHILLING EFFECT’ ON CUSTOMERS
Although Harrison maintains that Jesus loves everyone, and everyone is thus entitled to the discount, the sign would still have a “chilling effect” upon a potential customer, said Teitelbaum.
“Exxon has an official duty to restrain its lessee from engaging in unlawful behavior,” said Teitelbaum. “We are impatient at this juncture with the length of time it has taken Exxon to seek its legal options.”
Harrison, who has leased the gas station from Exxon since 1968, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he “has taken a lot of heat” from the Exxon business counselor who represents the company in his area.
“I’ve been getting a lot of hassles from Exxon, but I am the sole proprietor of my business. I pay all the taxes, rent and bills. I don’t tell them how to run their business and they can’t tell me,” he said.
Harrison explained that he “accepted Jesus Christ as his savior” in July and posted the sign as a way of advertising Jesus’ name.
He said that “some, not a tremendous amount” of customers have taken advantage of the discount, although his support in the community is “99 percent.”
“I run my station, live within the law and have paid my debt to society like anybody else. I don’t need Exxon breathing down my neck,” said Harrison.
“Jesus Christ represents me, and he’s bigger than Exxon,” he added.
According to attorney Shimek, he has received Exxon’s letter and “will get to it.” Shimek said he suggested the rewording of the original sign and that it “boggles my mind how (the second one) can be offensive.”
“If 6 percent of the people in this country who are atheists are offended, does that mean 94 percent who believe in a creator have to bow down?” he added.