America Confused: Can You Refuse Service Based on Religion?
If you own your own business, you should in theory be able to turn any customer away for any reason. This is not so in today’s era, in which the freedoms demanded by one group violate the freedoms demanded by another.
Take Jack Phillips, for example: Jack lives in Lakewood, Colorado, where he owns and operates his own bakery. He considers cake decorating a form of art in which he honors God.
Jack was shut down by the Colorado Court of Appeals last year when he argued that creating and selling cakes for gay weddings not only violated his religion but also his First Amendment rights (the state of Colorado has not passed a RFRA).
The federal government “has a duty to protect people’s freedom to follow their beliefs personally and professionally rather than force them to adopt the government’s views,” argues Jeremy Tedesco of the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Even so, Jack lost. His case is one of many rulings involving Christian business owners involved in the wedding industry. In all the cases I’ve read, the same sex couple has triumphed.
The question of whether or not business owners can turn away customers based on their own or a customer’s religious beliefs has become a heated debate in lieu of recent events including the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015 and the ongoing acts of radical Islamic terrorism throughout the US and other nations.
A cake can’t harm anyone, but what about stores that sell firearms? Two months after Jake was forced to bake cakes for anyone and everyone who came into his bakery, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) filed a discrimination lawsuit against a Florida gun store.
Florida Gun Supply declared itself a “Muslim-free zone” shortly after Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed four Marines and a Navy sailor in July 2015. “The only reason they [CAIR] filed this was to keep money coming from their supporters and to keep their group in the headlines,” complained storeowner Andy Hallinan.
Florida does have a RFRA, and the case was dismissed by US District Judge Beth Bloom.
“The judge simply said that we didn’t have standing because nobody from our organization actually went and got service denied. If somebody from the Muslim community were to go and get a denial of service then Andy will be liable. We are very excited about that and it should be sending him a strong message,” warned CAIR Florida executive director Hassan Shibly.
“We’re not selling Barbie dolls here, we’re selling firearms,” Andy reiterated. “We need to make sure that we’re putting guns in people’s hands that are going to do good things in the community with them like keeping peace, not blowing other people up.”
“We get to know each and every one of our customers,” Andy added, noting that he would sell to a Muslim customer only if he did not believe in a literal interpretation of the Koran. “If the hair on the back of our neck raises for any person – regardless of their race or religion or anything else – we will not sell to them.”