The Religious Rights of Business Owners and the Right to Refuse Service

Garden City business lawyerIn the past few years, the Supreme Court has had to make a number of decisions regarding the rights of businesses to accept and reject certain transactions and whether to provide certain benefits. In the 2014 case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Court decided that laws that contradict or interfere with a business’ right to exercise religious freedom may be unconstitutional and impermissible. In that case, President Obama’s healthcare plan required that certain businesses provide healthcare coverage to their employees, which included the requirement to provide coverage for female contraception.


This case highlighted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which does not allow the government to pass laws or regulations that would hinder one’s ability to freely exercise his or her religion. It provides business owners the right to refuse service to customers based on the owner’s religious beliefs and whether fulfilling the customer’s request would cause the business owner to sacrifice these beliefs. It was argued that Obama’s plan itself interfered with this law, and for that reason, Hobby Lobby Stores did not have to offer its employees insurance coverage that included female contraception.


In many states, business owners cannot deny service to consumers based on disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or ethnicity. However, a business can legally refuse service in the following instances:

  • The customer is misbehaving, acting rowdy, or causing a scene
  • The customer threatens or causes a feeling of danger to an employee or business owner
  • The customer does not meet the company’s clothing or health requirements or any other policies of the establishment
  • The customer would cause the establishment to be over capacity
  • The customer requests service outside of the business’s hours


The religious reason for refusing service has surfaced frequently in recent years and the controversy over when businesses should have this right has intensified. Stories like those of a baker refusing to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples, or a florist refusing to sell a bouquet to a customer who requested it to give to his partner as an anniversary gift, have become more prevalent since the passage of the RFRA. These cases have even been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.


State laws that allow for businesses to more easily assert their religious beliefs have become more common. A law in Mississippi declared that gender determination is based on assignment at birth, which allows businesses like fitness centers to decide who they want to allow in their bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms. These cases have begun to blur the line between asserting one’s constitutional rights and discrimination, leading to a number of lawsuits. Many of the issues that arise have caused conflicting interpretations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, First Amendment right to religious freedom, and the RFPA.


The assertion of religious beliefs and discrimination are both very controversial and prominent issues in today’s business atmosphere. If you or your employee have been accused of discrimination after asserting your religious rights, it is important to contact an attorney experienced in handling issues involving the rights of business owners. The Garden City business law attorneys at Blodnick, Fazio & Associates can help guide you as to legally asserting your rights while avoiding violations of human rights laws. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact our Long Island business lawyers at (516) 280-7105.

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