Atheists Sue R.I. Florist for Refusing to Deliver Flowers to Teen Atheist Behind Prayer Mural Ban

Teen atheist Jessica Ahlquist gained widespread media attention throughout 2012 after successfully suing to have a prayer mural removed from her high school in Cranston, R.I. After a judge sided with Alhquist, she received threats from those who opposed her actions and scholarships and praise from the nation’s atheist activist movement. But among the odder developments following the case was a subsequent spat that developed between Rhode Island-based florists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheistic non-profit.

TheBlaze first reported about this incident on Jan. 20, 2012, noting that the FFRF reportedly tried to have a dozen roses delivered to Ahlquist with the message, “Congratulations, and hang in there, with admiration from FFRF.” After being denied by three florists in the Cranston area, the group was eventually able to secure an order from a business located in Connecticut. However, they decided to go after two of the businesses that declined service.

Last Friday, the organization filed a lawsuit against Twins Florist, claiming that Marina Plowman, the business owner, denied the FFRF “full and equal access to public accommodations by refusing to fulfill a flower order on the basis of religion (non-belief), in violation of Rhode Island General Laws.” The legal challenge comes nearly one year after the incident and following the group’s previous civil rights complaints.

Jessica Ahlquist, top center, who brought action against a prayer banner at Cranston West High School smiles as she sits with supporters during a school committee meeting at Cranston East High School in Cranston, RI., Thursday night, Feb. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) 

On Jan. 2012, the FFRF filed a grievance with the state’s Commission for Human Rights and was granted a victory, with a preliminary investigative commissioner noting in October that there is “probable cause” to assume that Plowman’s refusal violated state law. Now, the case is heading to court (the FFRF also filed a grievance against a separate florist, who chose mediation through the commission — an event that will unfold in March).

Previously, Plowman stated that her refusal to fulfill the order was nothing personal and that it was her right, as a business owner, to decline. 

“I just chose not to do it. Nothing personal, it was a choice that I made,” she said in an interview conducted last year. “It was my right, so I did that. I’m an independent owner and I can chose whoever I want, whenever I want.”

Jessica Ahlquist (left) (AP)

But the FFRF doesn’t agree with this assessment and the organization is taking to the courts to ensure that the Plowman hears atheists’ angst regarding the matter. As The Christian Post reports, the lawsuit it seeking “reasonable court costs and damages.” Additionally, the organization is advocating for an injunction that would prevent Plowman from similar acts of discrimination in the future.

“This is outright discrimination. It was ugly and it is a violation of the Civil Rights Act,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told the Post this week. “This is very fundamental to civil liberties in this country. All we are asking for is the delivery of our flowers.”

In a separate interview, Plowman did not offer much information, but she did tell the outlet that her decision not to send the flowers had nothing to do with religion and that she had no idea who Ahlquist was at the time.

Is Plowman right to assume that she has the right, as a business owner, to decline service or is the FFRF’s discrimination case stronger? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

(H/T: Christian Post)