By now most of us following the whole Cranston High School West prayer banner issue have heard about how several Cranston florists refused to deliver flowers sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to Jessica Ahlquist. At least one florist specifically said, “I will not deliver to this person” (see picture below). The common argument, especially from those espousing the supposed virtues of a totally free market, is that the businesses were well within their rights to refuse service to anyone they desired. What people making this argument fail to understand, however, is that we have something call the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Atheism, as a religious stance (but not a religion in and of itself, in case you were wondering), is protected under the Civil Rights Act (as well as a Rhode Island public accommodation statute), which means that — like blacks and gays — atheists can’t be discriminated against by businesses open to the general public just because of the fact that they are atheists. And that’s the way it should be. A business that is open to the public does not exist within a vacuum; it is a part of society, part of a community that may rely on that business for certain products and/or services. And as a part of society it must offer its services freely to all people who can utilize them, or not offer them at all. And if business owners don’t like this fact of life, then they shouldn’t own a business to begin with.
Let’s say you were part of a minority (if you aren’t already). Hell, atheism is as good a minority as any to insert into this scenario, as this scenario is very possible under that circumstance and people like us already get a lot of hate. Let’s also say that you needed medicine. Let’s further say that every pharmacy within 20 or 30 miles just happened to be owned or run by somebody who was morally opposed to atheists, atheism, and everything we all stood for (or refused to stand for). Would it be considered a “right” for each and every business — for any business — to refuse service to you simply because you were an atheist? Would it be considered okay for any business to essentially force you to go out of your way for a product you needed?
Quite simply, no — to both questions. Businesses should not have the right to refuse service, especially based on criteria that are essentially out of the control of the person or people in question. I can’t help being an atheist any more than I can help being mostly straight, white, male, and dashingly good-looking. In other words, I can’t just turn my skepticism and critical thinking on or off like a light switch. And since a religious stance such as Christian or atheism can be viewed as a moral position, it makes it even more wrong to discriminate somebody based solely on what kinds of morals they hold, where they get their morals (our conscience vs. a millennia-old compilation of fairy tales), or because they exercise their First Amendment right to religious freedom and happened to pick the “wrong” one in the eyes of the business owner.
That’s why people like Ron Paul piss me off: they believe in a purely free market, where businesses will magically regulate themselves, act like saints and angels, and essentially “it’ll all work itself out”. That’s bullshit, plain and simple. Businesses need regulations, just as citizens need laws.
I would like to take this opportunity to urge all (three) of my readers to support Jessica Ahlquist by making a donation to her college fund. Do it now!