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Refusing business for religious reasons

April 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.”

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23 Responses to “Refusing business for religious reasons”

  1. thinkorthwim Says:

    To call this misguided piece of legislation the “Religious Freedom Protection Act” is a big fat whopper of a red herring. The case involving the Richland florist has absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s freedom of religion.

    For Sen. Brown or anyone else to even suggest that this bill is needed “to stand up to attacks on a person’s deeply-held religious beliefs” is a ludicrous and willful distortion of the facts. The AG’s office and the ACLU did not file lawsuits because they are attacking the florist’s religious beliefs. No one is telling her she can’t be a Christian, or trying to restrict when, where or how she prays, or compelling her to condone same-sex marriage (even though the people of this state voted to make it legal.) She has the right to believe all gay people will burn in hell if she chooses to believe that.

    But whether she claims to be a Christian, Jew, Baptist, Holy Roller or Buddhist — or even if she were an atheist — she does not have the right to refuse to sell flowers to a customer because that customer wants the flowers for his wedding to his same-sex partner. That is discrimination and it is against the law. It’s that simple.

    I don’t believe the woman who owns the flower shop is a bigot, and she may well be a fine Christian who tries to live by her faith. But that does not give her the right as a business owner to discriminate against gay customers. I’m pretty sure her Christian beliefs don’t condone adultery, but would she refuse to sell a bouquet to someone she knows is a married man buying flowers for his mistress?

    And if this ridiculous bill that sanctions discrimination were to somehow become law, what would prevent a business owner from invoking religious or philosophical beliefs as justification for refusing to sell her goods to Muslims, or illegal immigrants, or Justin Bieber fans, or atheists?

    And for what it’s worth, if the florist wrestling with the dilemma over her customer’s request for flowers for a same-sex wedding would have asked WWJD, I think a loving Jesus not only would have provided the flowers, he also would have gone to the wedding.

  2. Fletc3her Says:

    You can refuse business to any particular person, but it is illegal to discriminate simply because of what race, creed, sex, or orientation someone is. People should be judged by their conduct, not by their appearance.

    There are still businesses in this country which will refuse service to black people or other minorities. We have come a long way, but discrimination is still a problem.

    The florist wants to be a test case and she’s getting her wish.

  3. Scott T Says:

    It’s their loss with the passing of the gay marriage laws.

    That’s a lot of business to throw away on some stupid conviction from a 2000 year old book.

  4. Robin in Manette Says:

    Any business that practices discrimination should lose their business license. But regardless, I believe they’ll go out of business anyway because even if they only lost a fraction of their business, who can afford that in this economy?

    They deserve to go out of business for being stupid.

  5. Robert Says:

    You cannot break a law that is broken to begin with. The State is simply fixing the statute.

    States action does nothing that is not allowed by the
    U.S. Constitution

    9-0 Supreme Court Ruling

    Hurley v. Irish-American gay, lesbian and bi-sexual group of Boston
    “cannot be compelled to alter their message under the guise of anti-discrimination laws”

    Of primary concern to the Court was the fact that anyone observing the parade (which regularly gained a large number of spectators) could rationally believe that those involved in the parade were all part of an overriding message the Council was seeking to provide.
    Effectively, the Council could not be forced to endorse a message against its will.

    Anyone observing the union of two males could rationally believe that the Florist was part of the overriding message.

    State can no more compel the Florist as you can compel a city council

  6. David F Says:

    I find no sympathy for the florist in question. The law is the law, and discrimination for ANY reason is both against it and wrong. If you can not enter into a business being willing to follow the laws as they are set forth, you should not own a business. In the instance of the flower shop, I hope some agreement can be reached that does not penalize her financially and put her out of business, but she does need to be held accountable. Would we still respect her opinion to refuse service if she refused to serve someone because they were black? Of course not.

  7. Sharon OHara Says:

    Baloney!
    A business owner pays the bill/s including appropriate taxes and wages for employees – they should have the right to refuse customers if they want to refuse income – it is the business loss – the clients can spend their money elsewhere.
    Keep government out of it – !

  8. Sharon OHara Says:

    Didn’t the German government discriminate against the Jewish religion to the point of annihilating -attempting to- the Jewish religion. The Jewish business owners didn’t discriminate against anyone and from all I’ve read, thrived in business… Then and now.
    Fledgling businesses such as Apple and Microsoft – any really successful business person goes after business….not just tech business … To be successful.

    On the other hand it should be the business owners decision to lose business or get paid for doing a great job and increase a good business reputation with satisfied clients.

  9. seabeck_goombah Says:

    Sooner or later somebody was going to trot out the Nazis.

    You really want to compare what happened in a fascist state to what should be in a free state.
    This bill provides the mechanism to discriminate against almost anybody for “philosophical” reasons and has no place in our law.

    If you enter the public realm of business and are granted a business license then you need to play by the rules that all businesses play by.
    Leave your religion in church and tend to business. What if gay business owners refused to sell to christians? I bet all “holy hell” would erupt from the right about discrimination.
    If you refuse business from someone because of who they choose to love, not only are you a narrow minded neanderthal, you are also a crappy businessperson.

  10. Billy TwoCanoes Says:

    Maybe this woman could get a job picking cherries after she loses her flower shop for discriminating against other citizens. She seems to be good at it (cherry picking).

    This new bill belongs in the garbage heap and the names of its sponsors and supporters should be noted. Shameful!

  11. Denis Says:

    Sharon, a business owner is in business to serve the public.

    To make the claim that a certain portion of the public will not be served (any portion; gays, Jews, Catholics, whites, blacks, Moslems), they must become a private association, and charge membership for their clients.

    No business may refuse to serve any group, based on religion, sex, race, or any other bigotry.

    Some of the newer so-called “conservatives” will disagree.

  12. Sharon OHara Says:

    Denis – I’ve reread the article – twice – since reading your post. I believe businesses who discriminate will fail in this day and age without the stringent government laws. People simply won’t shop in the “you, yes – you, no- stores.

    Forcing a business owner to supply flowers against her will for whatever reason spoils the flowers and the happy occasion they are meant to enhance…that is wrong.
    Martin Luther King and those who preceded him did their job well. Discrimination can’t survive in today’s world.

    Businesses can’t survive under the cloud of discrimination. The same sex marriage couple would be better served insisting on a flower business who wanted their busines and would do an outstanding job for them at the best price.

    Without more government intervention.

  13. Nichole Says:

    our rights are being taken away one by one.

  14. Robin in Manette Says:

    Sharon, please replace “gay” with “black” and explain to me again how it’s OK to pick one segment of the population and deny them service? That business owner leases a store in a city, with pubic roads, public utilities, public fire & police protection, etc. The store is protected by the laws of the land, but in return for the infrastructure and protection under the law, they must also abide by said law. Your ignorance and intolerance is ugly and history will look upon people like you the same as they do Jim Crow. Personally I’m embarrassed and appalled that some of my neighbors are so hateful.

  15. Scott T Says:

    Seabeck Goombah- it’s called Godwin’s law, sooner or later someone does make reference to Hitler.

    If two gay guys or girls called me and wanted an aerial shot of their house they are trying to sell and I refused them, that’s like flushing a $100 bill down the toilet…..STUPID from a business point of view.

    This may be why there is no intelligent life on this planet, we are too primitive and warring and have too much hate and intolerance in our world, and it’s mostly from the religious crowd!

    Imagine……

  16. Kathryn Simpson Says:

    If a person wants to be ‘stupid’ in their business practices, then let them and let the market decide.

    Flip the situation, say I’m a capable local caterer and I’m gay and the local extremist aryans regularly picket my church. Should they so desire, by the AGO’s position, they can make my life miserable by insisting that I cater their wedding? What if I don’t want to be associated with the Aryans? Yet, if I refuse, they can further harass me by suing me for not catering a straight wedding?

  17. Sharon OHara Says:

    Robin – Take a nap and reread my post….I made no pro discrimination comments. Then see if you can find a photo of our president – he happens to have back skin. This is the year 2013 – not 1950….times change.

  18. Mick Sheldon Says:

    Actualy the person who was denied service had been a customer for years . It was not till the actual request for the wedding was made was their a problem .

    For those unaware many people of religious beliefs view a wedding an ordained covenant by God . Its why Chruches are not required to marry everyone that requests their marriage arrangements , different beliefs have different views . Traditional Christianity , Muslim and Judaism belive the Coveneant is between one man and one woman .

    The people involved actualy had a conversation about this before the complaints of them being compared to racists or perverts . They hugged and departed . The homosexual felt quite hurt , and who could blame him . The Floorist did not feel like she did a slam dunk either .

    People who go to homes for health care services , massages , etc are allowed to deny service if they feel uncomfortable in providing the service . This Florist has sold flowers to this person before , it was not till the wedding that there was a problem .

    Its unfortuate that after hundreds of years in this country religious freedom has been able to exist along side for the most part with in the frame work of our laws . This is an unfortuante situation . Looks like to me the Florist broke the law . I have seen web sites that have sprung up that actually are attemting to make her go out of business. She has had one employee quit over this , and she has had homoswexuals work at her establishment before , but I do not think now .

    Teachings that support marriage often teach that it provides stability for the family , security for them and insures a blessing from above . Obviously we all fail to meet these standards . having those standards however and believing they are from God is a beautiful teaching .

    Its a shame that these things happen .

  19. Shari Burns Says:

    When I heard about this bill I was shocked. I thought Washington was above such bigotry in in our state government. Apparently not. Passage of this bill would provide an open door welcoming widespread hate and discrimination.

  20. Mick Sheldon Says:

    @Shari I am sure if it waspassed it would be used to attack certain groups of people it could be used hurtfully to others . I have seen people in my community who just hate certain types of people use laws to attack to them . Obviously the law for equality in marriage has been used to do same thing also , just reading the posts and derogatory comments about those of any religious faith one can see some laws are mis used for the intended purposes . Secularism or religion has no monolopy on using what is at their disposal for hurting others.

    But no worries , this was a show in my opinion , the House would never allow it even to be debated , the Governmer would not sign it , and the media would portray those who supported it with racists ,

    But its a great fund raiser if your figting gay marriage in other states . In fact the more this Florist gets attention and receives the anger and comdemnation of the left , the more sympathy and money will be raised elsewhere.

    The point I was making was these two people who were friends at one time . One was being true to their faith and one was just trying to be true to the love of his life. I do not think either meant to hurt the other , but now , looks like everyone is out to hurt the other side .

    I do not believe hatred is driving either side of this . But hatred does seem to be winning the debate .

  21. Clint A. Says:

    So we are basing the “denial of services” on the customers “sexual preferences”. Most people find this to be absurd and the business should be sued or lose its license.
    How would people feel about a pedophile coming into your business? Would you refuse business to a pedophile? I know I would. Pedophilia can be classified as a sexual preference as well. Beastiality can be defined as a sexual preference. Any business should have the right to refuse business to annyone they want.
    Why does a business have to, by law, conduct business with someone they don’t want to, but a customer can pick and choose which business they want to deal with. The law is one sided.

    Moderator’s note: I considered not allowing this post. Here’s why: To equate homosexuality and pedophilia is to take one person who is acting completely within the bounds of the law, even to the point of getting a government-sanctioned marriage, and someone acting illegally. The same goes for the writer’s statement as to what can be defined as sexual preferences. What two adults can consent to do is different than what one consenting adult does with someone or something that cannot. The comparisons are unfair and take the conversation off topic.

    What also takes the conversation off topic is the writer’s assertion that the service was denied over sexual preference. Excuse me for picking nits, but that’s not quite accurate. As has been pointed out by Mick, the florist had sold flowers to the man in the past. The issue was the marriage. The florist did not want to support that.

    I allowed it in part, however, because that question continues to be brought up elsewhere. It was asked in the story Chris Henry wrote about the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America, and answered by the organization itself. If this kind of belief is prevalent it is probably best for it to see the light of day, giving you the opportunity to agree with it or knock it down if you wish.

    I also allowed it because in the end the writer gets to the core question of whether a business should be allowed to refuse business to anyone. And that does seem to be the main question, whether religious liberty trumps anti-discrimination standards. — Steven Gardner

  22. Stop_the_ignorance Says:

    Why do we continue to capitulate to the <1%? This is deviant behavior brought on by broken homes just like the highly publicized gun violence. No-one seems to have a problem with country clubs or upper end restaurants and their exclusivisty. If a business wants to lose out on addtional income, it's their prerogative. If you don't like it use your pocketbook to deter this kind of behavior. in other words if you don't like their business practices BOYCOTT. It's not like it's the only flower shop around.

    This is all about PLAYING the VICTIM. We don't need to install legislation to do something the public can change by NOT spending money.

  23. Larry Croix Says:

    In the south where I grew up the sign “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” was an affirmation of the business support for segregation and Jim Crow. To this day I am bothered when I see this sign locally. When I see it posted in a minority owned business I am astounded. Yes I have seen this locally.

    That said, actions taken based upon ones conscience or religious beliefs should never be a matter for government sanction.

    I do believe that a business that discriminates will either fail or severely limit its success.

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