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Lawsuit claims a MAGA hat is a ‘spiritual’ symbol

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A man is claiming his Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat has religious significance, arguing he was unfairly discriminated against for his “spiritual” beliefs when he entered a New York City bar wearing the iconic red cap.

According to the Gothamist, Philadelphia accountant Greg Piatek filed additional court papers last week in an ongoing suit against West Village bar The Happiest Hour, which he says discriminated against him in January. Piatek initially filed suit in March with the Manhattan Supreme Court, claiming bartenders skipped giving him drinks and insulted him because of his political headwear.

But new documents have introduced a religious twist, the Gothamist reports. In a memo, Piatek and his lawyer now claim he is part of a “protected class” because his MAGA hat is an expression of “closely held spiritual beliefs” that ”entirely transcend the political realm.” He says the topper emblazoned with Donald Trump’s campaign slogan is expressive of a creed — legally speaking — that loosely revolves around sympathy for the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

As strange as it sounds, Piatek’s lawyer Paul Liggieri insists there is legal precedent to support his argument. Although he acknowledges their use of creed is “expansive,” he points to previous instances where the court has acknowledged the rights of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children because of their faith — regardless of whether they belonged to a religious tradition that generally opposes vaccinations, such as Christian Scientists.

It’s unclear if the court will be swayed by the argument that a MAGA hat is emblematic of an unorthodox, 9/11-inspired spirituality. While it is true some evangelical leaders sometimes invoke Christian nationalism in ways the hedge close to conflating their faith with Trump’s rise to power, Piatek does not appear to take the same approach.

His case also has other issues. Attorneys for The Happiest Hour say the man’s story — in which he claims a bartender called him “terrible person” and that the entire encounter was the “’Saddest Hour’ of his life” — is fabricated. They say they have the literal receipts to prove it: Piatek allegedly left a $36 tip on a $182 tab, according to documents that have been made public.

Yet a religious liberty claim, broadly defined, could still hypothetically end with a victory for Piatek, especially at a time where such arguments are given far wider latitude than in previous years. While the case is specific to New York laws, other national cases have hinged on “closely held” religious beliefs: the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision to grant craft store giant Hobby Lobby an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, for instance, revolved around the owners’ religious opposition to birth control.

“A religious belief can appear to every other member of the human race preposterous…yet still be entitled to protection,” the memo reportedly reads.

ThinkProgress reached out to Piatek’s lawyer Paul Liggieri for comment on this story, but did not receive a response by press time.

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