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Seattle café can expect an education in discrimination from the state

LISTEN: Charlene Strong talks about Seattle coffee shop that denied Christian customers

After a Seattle coffee shop owner ousted a Christian group based on the owner’s beliefs, Dori Monson asked how this happened. After all, the state legally responded when a Richland florist wasn’t allowed to deny service based on her beliefs.

It turns out, the state is responding this time, too.

“We are going to send a letter to the gentleman who owns the coffee shop and we are going to say that you cannot deny service to someone based on their religious beliefs,” Charlene Strong, chair of the Washington State Human Rights Commission, told the Dori Monson Show.

RELATED: Charlene Strong on taxes, business and homelessness

The anti-abortion Christian group is responsible for a few recent stunts, such as leaving origami figures around Seattle. This week, they handed out fliers that use the rainbow colors of the pride flag, incorporating anti-unity messages and dead fetuses. You can view the fliers here, but be warned, they are graphic and can be offensive.

Last week, Ben Borgman, owner of Bedlam Coffee in Belltown, saw the people behind the fliers in his cafe. He kicked them out and was crude when doing so. Video of the ousting went viral. Borgman claims that there was a peaceful interaction prior to the video of his heated exchange.

“Unfortunately, on tape, we don’t see the interaction where he claims he said he would like for them not to be in there,” Strong said.

“The information that this group was handing out is quite graphic, I’ve seen it,” she said. “They say they didn’t have it out, they didn’t have it in the coffee shop, they were not leaving their fliers there. They were just having coffee there because they like the coffee. This is an unfortunate situation of people butting heads, and it was not pretty and it was not nice. So we are going to send a letter letting Mr. Borgman know that in the State of Washington you can’t discriminate against someone in your place of business based on your beliefs.”

Beliefs and the constitution

Strong explained that this is the same response that Arlene’s Flowers in Richland received. The shop owner refused to serve a gay couple based on her religious beliefs. She received a letter, similar to what Borgman can expect. Despite receiving a letter informing her of anti-discrimination laws, she continued to refuse service. The incident resulted in a lawsuit that went to the state supreme court which determined the florist broke anti-discrimination laws.

For Dori, the florist should have been protected under his interpretation of the Washington State Constitution, article 1, section 11, which states that “no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion…”

“Your beliefs are your beliefs, and you are entitled to your beliefs,” Strong said. “I speak all over the country about this, not as a commissioner, but as a private citizen because I know a thing or two about being discriminated against … everyone is entitled to (their beliefs), and under our state constitution, you are allowed that. It’s when you choose to take your religious beliefs and deny another person access to public accommodation … that’s when it comes into question.”

“Every single one of us, every single day, is confronted with people we disagree with,” she said. “It’s all in the manner of how you handle yourself. As a business owner, it is not my place to discriminate against somebody because we don’t share the same ideological view of the world.”

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