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In the disciplined arena of Stack Overflow, a case has come to light where a user faced a 180-day ban for incorporating the term "B”H" at the beginning of their posts.

This term, deeply embedded in Jewish tradition, is not a mere signature but a religious observance, akin to the necessity of header content in code that enables the program to run seamlessly. Despite a policy against salutations or signatures, the usage of "B”H" serves a more profound purpose, aiming to infuse a spiritual dimension into the discourse. This scenario calls for a nuanced examination of platform policies to ensure they accommodate religious expressions, distinguishing them from prohibited content like signatures, while upholding the community's standards for focused and meaningful discussion.

The broader question extends to the legal realm, questioning whether there exists a universally accepted internet law, particularly where Stack Overflow servers are housed, that guards against religious discrimination by site administrators, akin to legal protections in other societal sectors.

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    "a case has come to light where a user faced a 180-day ban for incorporating the term "B”H" at the beginning of their posts" Citation needed. "...aiming to infuse a spiritual dimension into the discourse" Stack Exchange is not a site for "discourse" and I don't see why posts outside of the religious stacks would need to be "infused with a spiritual dimension".
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 3, 2023 at 6:59
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    Broadly speaking, if you want to challenge Stack Exchange policy (i.e. argue that you should be allowed to write 'B"H' at the start of your posts), you can do so calmly and respectfully on Meta.SE.
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 3, 2023 at 7:00
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    @MichaelHall who pays for their servers, bandwidth? Who makes money off of their ads?
    – Poly Tick
    Oct 3, 2023 at 19:07
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    @MichaelHall Stack Exchange is owned by Stack Exchange Inc. A corporation is definitely a suable entity. Oct 3, 2023 at 20:07
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    @PolyTick It has plenty to do with that (such as who you believe the "creator" is, or whether you believe there is one at all). But that's neither here nor there - you still haven't addressed my other, more important point, which is that you have presented zero proof that this alleged religious discrimination ever actually happened.
    – F1Krazy
    Oct 3, 2023 at 20:28

1 Answer 1

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It's lawful to discriminate on the basis of religion unless there is a law that says it isn't

I'm sorry if that appears tautological, but it's a necessary point because many people assume, wrongly, that they are free to express their beliefs (religious or otherwise) and that other people are not allowed to discriminate in response. This is not true!

Stating that you don't like something someone said or did (or is) and refusing to deal with them as a result is an exercise in free speech and protected as such. Just as a Jewish person is free to make a public declaration of their faith (such as by starting correspondence with "B"H"), an anti-Semite is equally free to express their beliefs and discriminate against the aforementioned Jewish person. Freedom of expression means freedom to express morally, ethically, and socially reprehensible viewpoints.

The rights in the US Constitution (and similar rights in other jurisdictions) are limits on what the government can do, not what private individuals, including Stack Exchange Inc., can do.

Now, the government can, by legislation, extend such rights so they apply to private entities. Still, because such laws potentially infringe the free speech rights of those private entities, the laws are subject to the same sort of scrutiny as any other law that inhibits a right.

Can Stack Exchange Inc. limit it's users free speech?

They're not the government, so yes, they can. In general, a private organisation does not have to allow you to use their platform to express views, speak in a way, or at all if they don't want you to.

Unless, the way they do that is or amounts to unlawful discrimination.

Is there a law that makes it unlawful for Stack Exchange Inc. to religiously discriminate against its users?

Stack Exchange Inc. is headquartered in New York, so we'll assume that New York state law and Federal law as interpreted in the Second circuit is applicable. It may be that the law where the user is based might also apply but since that could be anywhere, we'll leave that for now.

AFAIK New York does not have a law that prohibits religious discrimination by a business against its clients.

There is a Federal law that prohibits religious discrimination for businesses that provide "public accommodation". So is an online forum-type website "public accommodation"?

Case law on this is subject to a three-way circuit split, but in the Second Circuit, the answer is yes; Stack Exchange Inc.'s sites are places of public accommodation, and they are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion.

Is banning taglines religious discrimination?

No.

It's worth quoting the rule:

Do not use signature, taglines, greetings, thanks, or other chitchat.

Every post you make is already “signed” with your standard user card, which links directly back to your user page. Your user page belongs to you, so fill it with information about your interests, links to stuff you’ve worked on, or whatever else you like!

Thanks and other statements of appreciation are unnecessary, and, like other chitchat, should not be included.

If you use signatures, taglines, greetings, thanks, or other chitchat, they will be removed to reduce noise in the questions and answers.

The reason for the prohibition is content neutral (all taglines are banned - not just ones affecting religious sentiments) and for a legitimate purpose (to "reduce noise"). Furthermore, they have provided a place to put "whatever else you like" that is automatically attached to all your posts. While it may affect and possibly upset some people who follow the Jewish faith, it is not discrimination on the basis of religion.

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