The Golden Girls Had it Right: The Case Against Religious Discrimination in Public Accommodation

Jessica Ahlquist

Jessica Ahlquist

In case you missed it earlier this week, I wrote about 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist, an atheist and student at Cranston West High School. Last month she won a lawsuit against her school in trying to take down a banner with overt religious tones. After her victory, the Freedom from Religion Foundation attempted to send her flowers. The only problem? Every shop they contacted refused to accommodate the organization’s request.

One owner said it was his right to refuse service to anyone while another blamed the security they’d have to go through in order to deliver the flowers. One response exposed the undertone in each interview: they didn’t want to deal with the controversy of accommodating an atheist in light of the local lawsuit.
Cranston – a suburb of Providence – sits in a solidly Catholic state known for its smallness and “hometown” feel. When I lived there, I worked with people who had never been off the small stretch of interstate they both worked and lived on. They pride themselves on community and togetherness – which is why the “I don’t want to make waves in the community” argument may seem perfectly legitimate to them. Of course, we all know it isn’t. Unless the owners would also be willing to put a “no atheists allowed” sign on their door, their fear of losing Christian customers is just another way of discriminating against a young woman standing up for her Constitutional beliefs.

This isn’t a new issue – religion has always been a hot button topic when it comes to businesses and public accommodation. Traditionally though, the excluded group hasn’t been atheists so much as Jewish people. In an episode of the hit series The Golden Girls, they actually tackled this very subject. Watch the video below and tell me whether you agree or disagree with the woman that “tolerates” the business’ discriminatory policies.Will you stand against a young woman’s rights? Or will you stand up and tell businesses they have to accommodate every religion equally? Here’s the video:

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.


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  • To me it's a no-brainer. Even among some of my progressive-minded friends though, there seems to be a difference of opinion.

  • "Tolerate" … "Don't want to get involved" … "turn a blind eye" … all just ways of saying that we are okay with the situation and okay with letting others decide for us. I'm personally not okay with that … I won't support businesses (or be a member of any group) which discriminate against anyone for any reason.

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