Religious discrimination against atheists continues in many venues from the Boy Scouts to diners in Pennsylvania to flower shops in Rhode Island. Typical in the string of commercial violations are businesses that provide a different level of service to someone because of their religious beliefs, or in this case, the lack of belief.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation announced yesterday that they are suing a Rhode Island florist, Marina Plowman, in Cranston, Rhode Island, for refusing to deliver flowers to Jessica Ahlquist after she won her battle to remove a prayer banner in her public school auditorium.
The problem is that there is a pesky little law called the Civil Rights Act at the both the federal and state level, which says that a place of public accommodation must give equal access regardless of race, religion and national origin. A private club can set their own rules, but a business open to the public can not with regard to the protected categories in Civil Rights Act. So a store can restrict deliver to a certain geographic region or give discounts to seniors, as those are not restricted classes. But, the same store owners can not say “We don’t deliver to atheists.”
FFRF filed a previous complaint in January 2012 with the state Commission for Human Rights. A preliminary investigating commissioner determined in October that “probable cause” existed to believe that Plowman violated state law.
The parties could have engaged in more conciliation with the commission, but the defendant chose to move the matter to Superior Court. FFRF has asked for a jury trial.
The defendant told a TV reporter at the time, “It’s my freedom of speech. I refuse orders when I want and I take orders when I want.”
It has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It has to do with running a business. Another florist, Flowers by Santilli, when pressed agreed to mediation, as a sign that they are willing to discuss the issue and come to some sort of compromise:
FFRF filed a similar complaint with the commission about Flowers by Santilli’s refusal to fulfill the order. Flowers by Santilli chose pursue mediation through the commission. A hearing is set in March.
Ms. Plowman at Twin Florists will most surely lose, just as Cranston West lost their case to keep the banner up. If you have any doubts about how wrong she was, consider if the florist discriminated against another class and said “We don’t deliver to Jewish homes” or “We don’t like Irish Catholics. They can go elsewhere to buy flowers”. The Civil Rights Act was put in place for a reason and it is the job of shopkeepers to serve the public. If you don’t like it, then close your shop and do something else. But, don’t claim “Freedom of Speech” to discriminate. It just makes you look foolish.