Nearly 20 percent of Americans believe small business owners can refuse service to Jews and other minorities based on religious freedom.

Back in June of this year, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported a recent poll found that roughly 1 in 5 Americans believe small business owners have the right to decline service to Jews and other minorities if it violates their religious values.

Wayne State University Legal and Constitutional Law Professor Robert Sedler was not shocked by the data.

“It should not be surprising that people who are hostile to gays and lesbians, to minorities, would also be hostile to Jews,” Sedler says. “This should not surprise us. This has always been the case.”

“It is not uncommon for businesses to use religious freedom as a means to defend their discrimination against a differing group.”

One example occurred in 2014 when Hobby Lobby was under scrutiny disagreeing with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide contraceptives, such as an IUD, because the company believed the use of contraceptives resembles an abortion.

“The Supreme Court ruled to uphold their claim of religious freedom because as an alternative, Congress simply has the employer notify the insurance company that they’re not covering this and the insurance company will then cover it,” Sedler says.

“What you see here is religious groups now using freedom of religion to try to deny women access to contraception,” Sedler says. “You also saw this appear in the bakery case when the baker complained that their religious freedom granted them the right to deny baking a cake for a same-sex couple.”

According to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) Director Agustin Arbulu, the MDCR has had 13 complaints since 2015 related to discrimination based on religion, and more specifically, against Jews.

“Some of these complaints are still under investigation and we cannot speak to the specifics of those cases. A number of complaints have been closed for insufficient evidence,” Arbulu says.

“Resolution was reached in three complaints — one filed against J. P. Morgan Bank, which was resolved with a letter saying the claimant can do business at the location in question. Another complaint against Jewish Family Services was resolved with a settlement of $210. A third complaint filed against Dollar General Corporation was resolved with a welcome letter from the respondent to the complainant.”

“There is no religion that requires discrimination,” Sedler says. “These are people’s own religious views. If they are a business open to the public or if they’re an agency that contracts with the state, they should not be entitled to discriminate.”

If you or anyone you know has experienced discrimination in any form, you are urged to report it to the MDCR.

“Individuals should contact MDCR if they believe they have been subjected to unlawful discrimination. Individuals have up to 180 days from the date of incident to file a complaint. To file a complaint online, go to  michigan.gov/mdcr and click on “File a Complaint” or call 1-800-482-3604,” Arbulu says.

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