Many establishments will post a sign: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” It is an intriguing question as to when an establishment can and cannot refuse service to others.
Probably not surprisingly the signs, while deemed legal, do not actually have any bearing on whether the restaurant or other entity may refuse service. As Legal Match puts it, “Simply put, restaurants that carry a ‘Right to Refuse Service’ sign are subject to the same laws as restaurants without one.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 “explicitly prohibits restaurants from refusing service to patrons on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.” That makes sense given that one of the key tenets of Jim Crow laws was that restaurants would either refuse service to people of color, mostly blacks, or force them to pick up their food around the back in the alleyway.
There is a history here. On February 1, 1960, four college students who were African-American, decided to protest the segregation of lunch counters by sitting down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats.
Restaurants may refuse service for legitimate reasons: rowdy behavior, overfilled capacity, closing time, poor hygiene or improper attire. Legal Match writes, “In most cases, refusal of service is warranted where a customer’s presence in the restaurant detracts from the safety, welfare, and well-being of other patrons and the restaurant itself.”
The question then becomes, where does the line get drawn? Sexual orientation, for instance, is not included in the Civil Rights Act. And where does the line between exercising their own religion cross with the line of discrimination?
There was an interesting discussion of this in response to a letter to the editor in the LA Times earlier this week, where a Fullerton resident stated, “A Christian couple have the right serve ham at their wedding reception, but shouldn’t a kosher caterer have the right — on religious grounds — to decline their business?”
One person would respond, “There’s a difference between not offering a service to anyone and offering it to everyone except a certain group.” Instead, they argue, “the kosher caterer does not serve ham to anyone so it would not be discriminating against the Christian couple by refusing to serve ham at the couple’s wedding. If the couple wanted corned beef and the caterer would not serve them because they were Christian, Muslim or gay, then that would be discrimination.”
Another points out, “I doubt you’d find a kosher caterer selling ham. You also probably would not find an Indiana pizza restaurant selling prime rib (one, apparently, isn’t selling pizzas either) much less an Indiana shoe store selling sledge hammers.” They add, “The issue is not the demands of the customer, but the prejudices of the seller.”
Another points out, “Declining to serve ham is not the same as declining business.”
Here is where I think I stand on the issue: A pizza place cannot on religious grounds refuse to serve pizza to a same-sex couple.
The more gray area occurs with regards to whether a cake company can be compelled to write a message on their cake that is at odds with their beliefs. Is a cake company required to congratulate a same-sex couple for their wedding? Along the same lines, would a cake company be required to present an anti-gay message on their cake? Or a political message on their cake that is at odds with their own?
I can see arguments that go in either direction there. It is one thing for me to argue that white supremacists have the same rights to free speech as anyone, it is another thing for the government to compel a private company to facilitate that communication.
The Vanguard has a pretty open policy on submissions, however, you could argue that publishing a “white power” piece would harm our brand.
Moving to the other end of the fence, I would argue that Christian clergy or other wedding officials should not be compelled to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies.
On the other hand, I think it seems a lot more questionable that a business owner could refuse a same-sex party access to their facility. After all, if they denied a black couple or an interracial couple access to their facility, they would face a lawsuit for violating the Civil Rights Act.
So, do you believe that a facility could refuse an interracial couple access to their facility for their wedding reception? I lean toward no and therefore I lean toward no on refusal of a gay couple.
One of the more interesting things we have seen in this debate is just how far the public has moved on this issue in an extremely short period of time. Remember, it was just 2008 – about six and a half years ago – that California approved Prop. 8.
At the time, I predicted that gay rights to marry were inevitable, but I believed it would probably take a decade or two. In a relatively short period of time we went from a state like California voting to ban same-sex marriage (with the same electorate that overwhelmingly elected Barack Obama), to a place where it is conceivable that gays in most places could have the right to marry if the Supreme Court rules as it may well rule next month.
Now states like Indiana that pass laws that seem to discriminate against gays become the pariah. Republicans are nervous that association with these laws could hurt them in critical swing states in 2016. It has been a massive sea change in a very short time and that is nothing short of remarkable.
In the end, I do not see why granting gays the same rights to marry as everyone else has any more religious implications than states allowing divorce to undermine religions that do not permit divorce. The separation of church and state is paramount to protecting the liberty not only of individuals who do not practice that religion, but also of the churches themselves.
—David M. Greenwald reporting