Civil rights, public accommodations laws, and religious belief exceptions
When I was more heavily involved in historic preservation matters, I led a campaign to landmark an "old" arena/coliseum building in the H Street neighborhood of Washington, DC (now the building is about to become a high profile REI outdoor store, "We're Opening a New Flagship in Historic Uline Arena in Washington, DC").
One of the things I learned while doing the research to justify landmarking was the place of the building in the timeline of civil rights history specific to local Washington, DC. Technically, the city did not legalize segregation but in the late 1800s, laws banning segregation were hidden, and public accommodations--but not the city's transit system--but most everything else, stores, restaurants, hotels, housing, and hiring became segregated.
Later, while supposed to be segregated, the practice at baseball games at Griffith Stadium was integration.
After World War II, E.B. Henderson, a professor, director of sports for DC Schools, and a leading activist within the NAACP, led a campaign where people protested every event held at the Uline Arena, in order to get the owner--who claimed that integration of events was at the discretion of the sub-tenants renting use of the building--to make integrated events that standard practice. In 1949, the owner capitulated. (This was reported in the black press at the time.)
Protest Signs, Campaign to integrate Uline Arena, (1948-49).
I believe this influenced the holding in the Thompson Restaurant case four years later, where segregation in public accommodations in the city was prohibited, and this case in turn had to have influenced the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, which included a DC case, Bolling v. Sharpe.
The fight did not end with integrated schools, much more advocacy and legal action was required over the next 15 years to affirm civil rights protections in DC and US laws, as we know.
And as Black Lives Matters and related movements demonstrate now, it takes many decades to counter the legacy of hundreds of years of structural racism and economic segregation.
Public accommodations and personal practices. This comes up with regard to various laws concerning discrimination concerning sexual orientation or other matters, such as filling a prescription for birth control.
I don't see how it can be legal to provide a "religious exception' to what need to be considered civil rights public accommodations and equal protection laws. (Obviously, I don't agree with the "Scalia" Court holding in the Hobby Lobby case with regard to health insurance and coverage for abortion. The company's policy was upheld because of the beliefs of the leaders of the corporation.)
If you're a licensed pharmacist, I think it's fine to choose to not fill a prescription, provided your license to be a pharmacist is revoked, because you shouldn't have a choice whether or not to fill a legally prescribed prescription. In short, as a matter of business and licensure, pharmacists have a duty to fulfill all of their responsibilities.
Similarly, as an elected official, Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to grant marriage licenses for gay couples, should be removed from office as being unfit to perform the duties of the position ("Kim Davis stands ground, but same-sex couple get marriage license," CNN). The same for the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court ("Alabama chief justice orders halt to same-sex marriage licenses." Reuters). The law is the law.
If you're licensed/incorporated as a business selling to the public, you should have no right to pick and choose your customers on the basis of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. (although I am fine with "firing customers" in certain situations, see "When, Why, and How to Fire That Customer," Bloomberg, but for strict business reasons only).
Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Wash., refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. Above, the store in 2013. (Bob Brawdy / Tri-City Herald)
Christian Science Monitor has a story, "A florist caught between faith and discrimination," about a florist in Washington State who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding ceremony, even though the request came from a long time customer. She is now facing a lawsuit brought by the ACLU which she is likely to lose. (Also see "Florist who rejected same-sex wedding job broke Washington law, judge rules," LA Times.)
Choosing to serve someone or not because of their race is illegal. Equal protection should be afforded to people generally, including on the basis of sexual preference, use of contraceptives, etc.
I have no empathy or sympathy for the position of the owner of Arlene's Flowers, Baronelle Stutzman. As a retail business, she should serve all her customers, not pick and choose. Otherwise she shouldn't be in the business of serving the public.