Hotel cancels pro-Israel Christian event over safety concerns, accused of discrimination

Skyline of Nashville, Tennessee, taken from east bank of Cumberland River, is seen in this file photo.
Skyline of Nashville, Tennessee, taken from east bank of Cumberland River, is seen in this file photo. | Public Domain/Kaldari

A Christian organization has accused a Tennessee hotel of unlawfully canceling its pro-Israel conference because the venue received threats over the event. The local police department says the cancelation was purely a "corporate" decision.

On Monday, the First Liberty Institute, a conservative religious freedom legal organization, sent a complaint letter to Sonesta Nashville Airport Hotel about the venue's decision to cancel a conference organized by HaYovel, Inc. for May 20-22.

In the letter, FLI argues that the cancelation "violates the terms of the contract between the Sonesta and HaYovel executed January 31, 2024 ... and is unlawful religious discrimination in a place of public accommodation in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

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"HaYovel respectfully requests you fulfill your contractual obligations as agreed and provide HaYovel express written affirmation that you will do so," reads the letter.

"Failure to provide the written affirmation and fulfill the Contract may result in legal action against the Sonesta and all other responsible parties."

FLI Executive General Counsel Hiram Sasser told The Christian Post that his organization's client discovered the cancellation last Friday, reportedly "in response to antisemitic rhetoric from agitators."

"The Sonesta chain is in violation of federal and state law and they should correct this violation and stop their discrimination against people of faith," Sasser continued.

"Federal law and state law do not allow anyone to cancel an event based on the religious beliefs of the people holding the event and the law certainly prohibits the hotel from adopting the position of the antisemitic agitators heckling anyone who supports Israel."

The Christian Post reached out to Sonesta for this story. The company did not return comment by press time. 

In a statement Tuesday, FLI stated that HaYovel received an email on May 10 saying that the hotel received "credible threats regarding the safety of your group, our guests and employees, our hotel and sister property, and to businesses in our neighborhood." The email added that the "threats were confirmed by law enforcement officials in the last 24 hours."

In phone calls, hotel representatives told HaYovel officials that police advised them they should cancel the event due to security concerns. 

FLI reports that a Monday email from Chief John Drake of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department states that the department "did not advocate, in any shape or form, for the cancellation of the conference at the Sonesta Hotel."

"Any inference to the contrary is false," Drake stated in the email, a copy of which was shared by FLI.  "Equally false is the assertion in an on-line article that this police department voiced concerns about persons being in physical danger. In fact, members of the police department did, indeed, meet with hotel management at its request to talk about the conference. We let it be known that we were absolutely prepared to help the hotel create a safety and security plan, as we would with any of our city's hotels, and offer additional support if needed."

Drake stated that he is aware of a "number of external messages urging that it not host the event."

"In the end, the Sonesta Hotel made a corporate decision to cancel," Drake stated. "This police department was in no way a party to that decision."

Founded in 2004, HaYovel is a self-described "Christian Zionist" volunteer organization that sends Christians to Israel to help plant trees, help at local vineyards and tour the nation.

"We bring Christians to Israel to serve the land and people, enabling them to connect to the land of their faith, restore Christian Jewish relations, and confirm Israel's right to their ancestral homeland," the group states on its website.

"After serving in Israel, volunteers return to their homes with a renewed sense of purpose, a strengthened faith, and a zeal for God's worldwide plan of restoration that began with Abraham."

Last month, the group promoted "The Israel Summit," which featured multiple speakers, including former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Israeli Knesset Member Ohad Tal, National Religious Broadcasters President Troy Miller, and Israeli musician Yair Levi, among others.

The event comes amid nationwide pro-Palestinian campus protests in response to the ongoing war in Gaza. Israel launched an offensive in Gaza following the Oct. 7 large-scale terror attack carried out by Hamas, a terror group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the attack while around 240 others were taken hostage. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry claims that over 34,000 people have been killed since the war began. Those figures do not differentiate between combatants and civilians. 

"Amidst the backdrop of ongoing anti-Israel protests across America, it's time to show our unwavering support for Israel," HaYovel stated. "This pro-Israel event offers a meaningful opportunity to stand against the wave of hostility."

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