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

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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:

For virtually his entire life, Tim has been writing. Over the years he’s dabbled in mainstream fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction, and personal essays. The one consistent thread through his entire writing career has been blogging – he’s been doing it since 1997 in one form or another. In addition to writing Tim has frequently worked and volunteered as a civil rights advocate including on campus LGBT advocacy as well as interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.