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How the right to refuse service can impact your business

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who asserted his right to refuse service to create a same-sex couple’s wedding cake. The court’s decision has raised confusion as to whether business owners can now legally cite their religious beliefs as grounds for refusing to serve people based on their sexuality. Does a business legally have the right to refuse service? It’s common to see signs in restaurants and stores stating, “No shirt, no shoes, no service” or “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” While the sentiments aren’t exactly friendly, as long as they aren’t violating someone’s rights, businesses do have the right to refuse service. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the Colorado baker does not confirm the right to refuse service based on sexuality. The 7-2 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commision states the deciding factor was a remark made by a member of the commission during a previous ruling that demonstrated bias against the baker’s religious beliefs, which are protected under the First Amendment. The court did not uphold the baker’s right to refuse service to the gay couple on the basis of those religious beliefs. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion states, “these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.” Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (a federal law) makes it illegal to discriminate at places of public accommodation (restaurants, stores, hotels, etc.) based on someone’s race, color, religion, or national origin. It doesn’t include protection for sexual orientation. However, many states, including Colorado, have public accommodations laws that also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. That means if the same Colorado baker refuses service to any gay customer based on his religious beliefs, he could still potentially be sued in state court. Why refusing service may not be a good idea Even if a business owner has the legal right to refuse service outside of race,…

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