Hold the sandwich

A Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that a delicatessen owner may refuse to deliver food to a health center where abortions are performed. Reversing a decision of the Minnesota Commission on Human Rights, the court held that the owner’s refusal was based on his objection to conduct (performance of abortions) rather than to creed (the religious beliefs of the center’s director and employees) and was a constitutionally-protected exercise of the owner’s freedom of conscience.

The Minnesota Commission on Human Rights had ruled against the deli owner, finding that his refusal to deliver food to the health center amounted to discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Civil Rights Ordinance.

Rejecting the commission’s adoption of a broad definition of creed to include the pro-choice position, the court turned to Black’s Law Dictionary and case law to support its argument that the meaning of creed should be limited to religion and religious beliefs. Because the deli owner’s refusal was based on the fact that abortions were performed at the center, ruled the court, this was not the kind of discriminatory action based on creed which is prohibited by the state public accommodations ordinance.

Additionally, the court stated that the deli owner’s refusal was fully protected by the freedom of conscience provision of the Minnesota Constitution. Calling the issue of conscience too important not to be considered in the case, the court noted that “deeply rooted in the constitutional law of Minnesota is the fundamental right of every citizen to enjoy ‘freedom of conscience.'”

“The deli owner did nothing to either hinder or interfere with the activities of the facility,” the court concluded. “He simply exercised his constitutionally protected rights of ‘freedom of conscience’ by refusing to enter the premises of the health center.”

The judge in the Vermont case of Chuck and Susan Baker, Paquette v. Regal Art Press, is considering a comparable issue. We hope that decision will be as lucid and just as the one reported above.

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