By Karen Axelton
A florist in Washington State is making news by countersuing a customer who sued the flower shop over the owner’s refusal to provide flowers for his wedding, The Los Angeles Times reports. The catch? The customer is gay, and the florist, although she had served him for years as a customer, doesn’t approve of same-sex marriage.
Although florist Barronelle Stutzman has many gay and lesbian clients and has had openly gay employees, the Times reports she stated in her lawsuit that due to her religious convictions, she did not want to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. The suit claims that forcing her to do so would violate Constitutional protections of freedom of religious expression, freedom of speech and freedom of association.
The Washington attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union had filed prior anti-discrimination suits against Stutzman on behalf of the customer. In a new statement in response to Stutzman’s countersuit, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said, “As an individual, she is free to hold religious beliefs, but as a business owner, she may not violate our state’s laws against discrimination — no matter what she personally believes.”
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have responded by introducing a bill in Washington State legislature that would allow businesses to deny serving customers if they believe it would go against their sincerely held religious beliefs or conscience.
What do you think? What if a business owner’s “conscience” prohibited serving African-American customers or interracial couples, or their religious beliefs prohibited serving women who didn’t cover their heads with scarves? When does a business owner’s right to refuse service turn into discrimination?