In Christian companies, the Christian principles provide guidelines for its business operation. The biblical guidelines include Christian-centered living, a commitment to excellence, and a commitment to its people. In Christian businesses, the mission of Christian business must align with Scriptures.

Christian Businesses’ Religious Beliefs Allows Discrimination Against Women and LGBT

Based on religious objections, Christian businesses claim a right to discriminate since women’s right to choose, homosexuality, and same sex marriage are against some Christian beliefs.  

The discrimination takes many forms, including:

  • Christian schools firing women because they became pregnant while not married;
  • Business owners refusing to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees;
  • Graduate students, training to be social workers, refusing to counsel gay people;
  • Pharmacies turning away women seeking to fill birth control prescriptions;
  • Bridal salons, photo studios, and reception halls refusing to serve same-sex couples planning their weddings.
  • Doctors and health care providers refusing to provide medically necessary services to women specific reproductive-health services
  • Health care providers’ refusing to provide abortions and birth control prescription

Laws that Protect Christian Businesses’ Right to Discriminate

There are many laws which protect a person’s right to religious freedom. These laws would also apply to Christians who believe that same-sex marriage and women’s right to choose violate their religious beliefs:

  • The Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to worship or not as you choose. This freedom or religion clause is widely used by Christian businesses to support their right to discriminate against women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights. 
  • State’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is a federal law that mandates that religious liberty can only be limited by the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest. Since its passage in 1993, 21 states have enacted state RFRAs. In 2014, the Supreme Court made it clear in its Hobby Lobby decision that closely held corporations can assert free exercise rights under the federal RFRA.
  • Laws That Allow Refusal to Provide Medical Services, Counseling, and Referrals: The key laws include the Church amendment (1973, 1974), the Coats amendment to the Public Health Service Act (1996), and the Federal Refusal Clause (also known as the Weldon amendment, 2004). Under these refusal laws, health care providers are allowed to refuse to provide medically necessary services to women specific reproductive health services and information. 
  • Laws That Allow Discrimination in Employment, Housing, and Public Accommodations: Many states don’t ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace,  housing, or public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, and other places that serve the general public).

Laws that Inhibit Christian Business’s Discriminatory Practice

Laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation give basis to challenge laws to protect Christian businesses of their faith-based anti-choice discrimination and rejection of homosexuality.

  • The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Civil Rights Act give justifications to fight against the increased number of states’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act. For example, Indiana’s RFRA faced a harsh criticism because it would allow individuals and companies to discriminate against same sex couples and other groups in the name of exercise of religion. As a result, the law was revised to include new language to clarify that businesses and service providers cannot use the legislation as a justification to discriminate based on a client’s sexual orientation.
  • State Constitution: Women’s freedom and privacy are protected by the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wadedecision. 16 states’ courts have ruled that their state constitutions provide stronger protections for a woman’s right to choose than the U.S. Constitution. (AK, AZ, CA, CT, FL, IL, IN, MA, MN, MT, NJ, NM, OR, TN, VT, WV.)
  • Laws Promoting Insurance Coverage for Contraception: Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), newly issued insurance plans must cover women’s family-planning care, including contraceptive methods, without copayments or deductibles. 28 states have laws or regulations ensuring equity in private insurance coverage for prescription contraception. ( AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, HI, IL, IA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MO, MT, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OR, RI, VT, WA, WV, WI.)
  • Laws that Guarantee Women’s Access to Prescriptions provide that pharmacists cannot refuse to fill women’s legally prescribed birth control. 6 states guarantee that women’s birth-control prescriptions will be filled: CA, ME, NV, NJ, WA, WI.
  • Laws that Protect Discrimination in Workplace, Housing, or Public Accommodations: Currently, 20 states ban at least some forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while two additional states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some other states protect public but not private employees from discrimination. The protections vary from state to state.

Are There Any Potential Remedies Or Penalties a Business Could Face?

The potential remedies or penalties may vary depending on the violations of the applicable laws. You can ask for compensatory damages as well as declaratory relief and injunctive relief to prevent the threatened violation or continued violation.

For example, a judge for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) ruled that a lesbian couple should receive $135,000 in damages for their emotional suffering after the owners of an Oregon bakery refused to make them a wedding cake. The Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding was fined $1,000. In Arizona, Tucson added sexual orientation as a class to its anti-discrimination law in 2007. The violations of the law are a civil offense and carry a $300 fine.

Should I Consult an Attorney?

An experienced attorney in civil rights can be extremely valuable in assisting Christian business owners in discrimination issues. The response to a complaint and the gathering of relevant evidence requires an attorney with experience. In addition, an attorney can help guide Christian business owners in any settlement arrangements.