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A Philadelphia restaurant has been cleared of a discrimination complaint triggered by the owner’s sign telling patrons, “This is America. When ordering, please speak English.”
“This is a great victory,” owner Joey Vento told WND today after the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations ruled his sign could stay in the window of Gino’s Steaks South Philadelphia landmark store.
The controversy began in October 2005 when Vento put up a small bumper-sticker size sign.
On June 12, 2006, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations launched on its own initiative a discrimination case against Vento. It alleged the sign violated the city’s Fair Practice Ordinance by discouraging the business of non-English speaking people, including, most importantly, Hispanic-speaking immigrants.
“Joey is now totally vindicated,” his lawyer Al Weiss of the Philadelphia firm Blinder & Weiss told WND in a telephone interview. “The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations found Joey was within First Amendment rights to post the sign at his business.”
Weiss told WND he was surprised Vento won at this level.
“We fully expected to lose the case before this commission,” Weiss said. “The commission itself brought the complaint and heard the complaint. We thought we were going to lose and have to appeal, but the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations did the right thing.”
“There was no testimony in the eight-hour hearing that found Joey or Gino Steaks did anything that violated the law,” he said. “Joey never turned away anybody from any protected group from getting served at the restaurant.”
During the controversy, Vento got national print media coverage and publicity that included multiple interviews on talk radio and appearances on Fox News.
“This is the sign that woke up the United States of America,” Vento proudly proclaimed.
He told WND Gino’s Steaks serves an estimated 1 million sandwiches every year.
“I didn’t want to take somebody’s money and end up giving them the wrong sandwich, just because they couldn’t speak English,” he explained. “Sure, we’re a melting pot, but what binds us together is the English language.”
“Teddy Roosevelt was right,” he continued. “Immigrants have to realize we have room in this country for one language, and that’s the English language. We’re all one people, the American people, and we should all speak one language, the English language.”
“I’m an American of Italian descent, but I don’t go around telling people I’m an Italian-American. I always say I’m American-Italian. If you are a true American, then put America first.”
Vento said he always took the sign positively.
“To succeed in this country it helps to speak English. It’s as simple as that.”
According to a press release by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a group that assisted in Vento’s defense, Vento was threatened with fines and potential contempt.
“On behalf of Joey Vento and the hundreds of thousands of free speech supporters who spoke out during this attack on Mr. Vento’s free speech rights, we are pleased by the conclusions of the Commission,” said Shannon L. Goessling, executive director and chief legal council for the Southeastern Legal Foundation.
“Joey serves as an inspiring example for all Americans who choose to speak their minds in the public forum,” she continued. “‘Courage under fire’ describes this man and his efforts on the issue.”
In its 11-page decision, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations ruled, “The posted signage does not have the effect, result or consequence of communicating that the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of his business will be refused, withheld or denied or that the patronage any person within a protected category under the ordinance is unwelcome, objectionable or not acceptable, desired or solicited.”
Vento said, “You have to assimilate here so the U.S. becomes your first country.”
“Throughout the controversy, I never took the sign down,” he said. “Now I want to thank everybody who supported me.”
Media wishing to interview the author of this article, please e-mail Tim Bueler.
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