Can a Restaurant Refuse to Serve You Because of Your Politics or Lifestyle? In a word: yes.

No shirt, no shoes, no service; we’re all familiar with that.
You’re not barefoot or half-naked, so you should be good to go.

Race, religion or national origin. We know that the Civil Rights Act protects us from those forms of discrimination. Other laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, gender, or disability.
But what about breastfeeding mothers? Or a cheating spouse dining with his mistress? Or O. J. Simpson?
They’ve all recently been refused service in restaurants.

Restaurants are privately-owned businesses but they provide what the law calls a ‘public accommodation.’ That’s why they have to comply with the federal laws banning recognized forms of discrimination. Some states have also passed their own laws to provide broader protections, like California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act that makes it illegal to discriminate because of sexual preference or unconventional dress (except Disneyland where only the park employees are allowed to wear costumes). The nursing mother, the adulterer, O.J.—none of them belong to legally protected classes.

Some other cases that have made recent headlines:

  • a restaurant near the Seattle-Tacoma airport announced it was banning TSA agents until airline passengers are treated with respect and dignity during airport searches
  • a restaurant in Winston-Salem refused to serve a notoriously bad tipper
  • Stacey Campfield, an anti-gay Tennessee state senator was refused service by a Knoxville restaurant after the senator made a string of homophobic public statements
  • a restaurant reviewer who’d published a churlish review and a girl in a pro-Israel t-shirt were both refused service by a pair of L.A. area restaurants

Were their civil rights violated? What about the rights of the restaurant owners?

TSA agents, bad tippers, restaurant reviewers—none of them belong to legally protected classes. Even the senator, the cheating husband, and the girl in the Zionist t-shirt could be legally ejected since the issue is ideology, not religion (make it a Ku Klux Klan shirt instead, and her case is pretty clear). Outside of the protected classes, restaurant owners can exercise their own rights. A murderer, a cheapskate, and an airport groper—they can all be banned because of their personal values. But the treatment can’t arbitrarily single out an individual—the restaurant owner who eighty-sixed O.J. could help his legal position by refusing to serve Robert Blake and Claus von Bülow.

It’s interesting to note that while it’s illegal to refuse service to certain classes of people, its perfectly legal to provide discounts on the basis of those same characteristics. Ladies nights, senior specials, and discounts for local residents or union members are all permitted.

One Response to Can a Restaurant Refuse to Serve You Because of Your Politics or Lifestyle? In a word: yes.

  1. Pingback: Should Brewer have Vetoed ‘Anti-Gay Bill’ SB 1062? - In Opposition | The Reliable Bias

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Is it appropriate conversation for the dinner table? Then it should be fine.

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