Refusing business for religious reasonsApril 26th, 2013 by Steven Gardner
I remember seeing “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” signs in businesses, particularly restaurants. That sign might still be in place in some places, but I don’t see how it can be considered categorically true.
If you follow the news, and if you stumbled upon this site I’m pretty sure you do, you know about Arlene’s Flowers of Richland being sued by the Washington Attorney General and the ACLU for refusing to provide flowers for a wedding involving a gay couple.
What follows is selected language from a bill introduced by legislators wanting to codify the business owner’s right to refuse service for religious reasons. After that is the press release announcing the bill and the responses that followed. If you are torn on the question, see if anything you read here pushes you one way or the other.
The law being changed reads, in part:
The right to be free from discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability is recognized as and declared to be a civil right. This right shall include, but not be limited to:
(f) The right to engage in commerce free from any discriminatory boycotts or blacklists. Discriminatory boycotts or blacklists for purposes of this section shall be defined as the formation or execution of any express or implied agreement, understanding, policy or contractual arrangement for economic benefit between any persons which is not specifically authorized by the laws of the United States and which is required or imposed, either directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, by a foreign government or foreign person in order to restrict, condition, prohibit, or interfere with or in order to exclude any person or persons from any business relationship on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability, or national origin or lawful business relationship:
What Republican legislators would add is this:
(4) Nothing in this section may burden a person or religious organization’s freedom of religion including, but not limited to, the right of an individual or entity to deny services if providing those goods or services would be contrary to the individual’s or entity owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience. This subsection does not apply to the denial of services to individuals recognized as a protected class under federal law applicable to the state as of the effective date of this section. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief, philosophical belief, or matter of conscience may not be burdened unless the government proves that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest.
Here is the initial press release from the Senate Majority Coalition:
OLYMPIA…Members of the Washington State Senate adopted a resolution April 19 recognizing the religious freedoms enjoyed by Washington residents. Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, took the next logical step today by proposing Senate Bill 5927, known as the Religious Freedom Protection Act – a measure that would promote tolerance of different religious beliefs by updating the state’s anti-discrimination and human-rights laws to protect people or religious organizations from legal persecution.
“One of the most cherished rights guaranteed to Americans is found in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion,” said Brown, R-Kennewick. “It is every citizen’s right – and I believe, responsibility – to stand up to attacks on a person’s deeply-held religious beliefs, and I would expect any of my friends and neighbors to do the same. This nation was founded on these constitutional principles, and Washington state law should uphold that.”
Senate Resolution 8652, the measure adopted unanimously on April 19, recognizes that “any law which is designed to restrict the liberty of one faith tradition erodes the founding principle of religious liberty,” and that “our state has a history of embracing individuals’ right to practice the faith tradition of their choice within the law and free of government interference; and a multiplicity of religious beliefs, traditions, and heritages bring strength to our state.” The resolution concluded that the Senate “believes that it is not the role of the legislature of Washington State to disparage or marginalize any religious tradition.” Under the law SB 5927 would create, no one could be forced to act in a manner contrary to their religious and philosophical beliefs, or matters of conscience.
“The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a religious belief cannot and should not be infringed upon,” Brown continued. “Our state has always been on the forefront of promoting civil protections for individuals, and it should continue to do so by standing up for the free practice of religion as fervently as any other legal protection.”
SB 5927 has been introduced in the Senate. Though there are only a few days left in the 2013 regular session of the Legislature, Brown says because bill proposals remain valid for a two-year biennium, SB 5927 could also be considered during a special session of the Legislature or in the 2014 session next January.
Today there was this from Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker:
“Yesterday, nearly half of the caucus that promised not to pursue so-called social issues introduced legislation that would sanction discrimination by businesses against gay and lesbian customers.
“Under Senate Bill 5927, if you own a business in our state and don’t like gay people because of religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs or just because you don’t, you will no longer have to provide services or sell your goods to any gay people.
“How’s that for progress?
“This of course all stems from the case of a florist in Richland who decided to not provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. Providing legal protection for this kind of bigotry takes us back to the days before Martin Luther King Jr., and attempts to reopen an issue that has been settled history in this country for decades.
“So here we are, literally hours away from what was supposed to be the end of the 2013 legislative session. We haven’t passed an operating budget, a capital budget or a transportation budget. We’ve seen bills that would have helped curtail gun violence, give women control over their reproductive choices, and help aspiring citizens go to college all blocked from ever receiving a vote.
“With time running short, rather than working on getting out of Olympia on time and saving taxpayers the burden of a costly special session, what do Washingtonians get?
“They get a bill that makes it OK to hate again.”
Fellow Democratic Sen. Ed Murray issued this:
OLYMPIA — Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, issued this statement regarding the introduction of SB 5927, the so-called “right to refuse” bill that would allow business owners to deny service to gay and other customers because of personal objections:
“This bill represents a pathetic attempt to undo basic civil rights protections that were enshrined in law well before the gay and lesbian movement even started.
“We as a society have evolved far beyond finding it acceptable to say who can sit at the lunch counter and who cannot sit at the lunch counter. The whole notion that a business should have the right to discriminate against its customers is abhorrent to us as Americans, and was settled decades ago. The history books are closed on this issue.
“At the beginning of session, Republicans said that all social issues were off the table because the budget was their priority. It takes someone truly shameless to say that in January and then, with three days left in session and without a deal on an operating, capital or transportation budget anywhere in sight, to introduce a bill that goes into our civil rights laws and decides who gets served and who doesn’t get served. Truly shameless.”