Whether for religious or political reasons, it seems like small business owners are constantly testing the boundaries of their right to refuse service to certain customers. Despite the fact that such discrimination is wrong on moral grounds and that turning away paying customers could hurt your bottom line, it could also get you sued.
So learned Florida Gun Supply, when it was sued after proclaiming itself a Muslim-free zone.
Freedom to Discriminate?
Andy Hallinan garnered national headlines when he posted a video to YouTube and Facebook, declaring his gun range a “Muslim-free zone.” It's unclear how many Muslims were frequenting the Inverness, Florida range and gun supply, but Hallinan adamantly claimed, “I will not arm and train those who wish to do harm to my fellow patriots.”
Hallinan wasn't the first to take such a stand — Jan Morgan banned Muslims from Gun Cave Shooting in Hot Springs, Arkansas earlier this year. But in this case, the Council on American-Islamic Relations sued Florida Gun Supply in U.S. District Court, claiming the ban violates federal public accommodations laws.
Public Businesses Can't Discriminate
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows courts “to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations.” Title II of the Act says that a business is a public accommodation “if its operations affect commerce,” which has been broadly interpreted by the courts. The law doesn't apply to private clubs or establishments not open to the public.
In Arkansas, Morgan argued that her gun club is private, and also that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allows gun range owners to turn away potential customers they believe pose a threat to the safety of others. (Although she may need to explain why Muslims are more of a safety risk than nine-year-olds or Iraq War veterans.)
While many of these bans seem like they're aimed more for publicity than any real purpose, we'll have to see how the federal courts in Florida sort this case out. If you're curious about your rights as a business owner, you may want to consult with an experienced civil rights attorney near you.
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