Friday, April 14, 2023

Nashville florist refuses service to Republican event

by Rod Williams, April 14, 2023-A lot of big-name Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, will be in Nashville this weekend for the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat. In addition to Trump, other attendees include former Vice President Mike Pence; Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia; Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida; Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; and more. At the event, big donors will meet to network and interact with important Republican leaders. (3)

The event has been scheduled for some time. In preparation for the event, event planners placed an order for flower with FLWR Shop in Belle Meade. The shop owners Alex Vaughan and Quinn Kiesow refused to provide service saying that while they "respect" the views of their conservative customers, the speakers featured at the RNC event go "beyond our comfort level." 

"At this moment, I cannot ignore the work the RNC has done to create this tragedy and so many others like it," the FLWR Shop said referring to the March shooting at the Christian Covenant School. (1)

This is very similar to other cases where florist, bakers, or photographers refused to provide service for a gay wedding, or in one case where a person was having a trans transition celebration. Most people refusing service in these instances refused service on religious grounds.

In the state of Washington, florist Barronelle Stutzman was fined for refusing to make flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding because of her Christian beliefs. She appealed the fine to the Washington Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear her case.

Probably, the most famous of these cases involved baker Jack Phillips of Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay wedding. He was fined by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This case took years to finally resolve and cost many thousands of dollars before it was resolved. It was resolved in Phillips favor when the U. S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips' rights under the First Amendment. (2Like many Supreme Court rulings however, the decision was narrowly drawn and did not settle the issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

One has to wonder as did Jesse Williams who posted this on the FLWR Shop's Facebook page:

I wonder what side the florist was on with the baker's business when they didn't want to bake a cake for a gay wedding because it would go against their religion. Did they side with most Republicans when we said a business owner should be able to serve whomever they want, especially when it specifically goes against their religion or were they on board with most Dems to force the bakers to make the cake?

I am old enough to remember when there were principled arguments against open accommodation laws.  Owners who did not want to serve Blacks often had signs in their businesses that said, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." They argued that as owner of the business they should have the right to serve or not serve whomever they wanted for whatever reason. Eventually this was mostly settled, and most people came to believe that if you are open for business, you must serve anyone. Of course, businesses can still have dress codes and refuse service to someone not properly attired. Cheaper prices for elderly people or making establishments adult-only may be legal, but an adult-only apartment building may violate fair housing laws. 

I think the case of refusing service because of strongly held values is different than refusing service because of someone's race or other obvious prejudice. Of course, some may have a strongly held value that integration is wrong. It can get complicated.  I generally don't feel one should be forced to violate one's conscience, however. I also think a non-religious person should have the same right to conscience as a religious person. The non-religious may have profound opinions of right or wrong just as strong as the religious person. Deciding when one may refuse service and when they may not is nuanced, however. As on many topics, there are many shades of gray and everything is not black and white.

Most of these type cases result in a business being fined for violating a policy or guideline based on a state law prohibiting discrimination or requiring open accommodation.  I do not know the status of Tennessee's' law in this regard, so I don't know if the florist could be punished under State law. Whether they can be fined or not, what should happen if they can be?

Because liberals have generally sided with the aggrieved party when someone is denied services of a photographer, or baker or florist, part of me wants to say, "It is payback time; fine them!" However, my better angle says, "No, be consistent; allow them to refuse service."

What should Republican do about this denial of service?  Go to the next florist on the list. This is not the only florist in town.  I seldom order flowers, but if I was one who did and had been a customer of FLWR Shop of Belle Meade, I would take my business elsewhere.  

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