When is discrimination acceptable and when is it against the law? This question is being raised after a gun range banned a Muslim man from its premises.
When gun ranges and other businesses started posting signs that Muslims were not welcome in their establishments, it caused a media uproar. One Muslim man decided to test the Constitutionality of the ban and filed a lawsuit when he was turned away at an Oklahoma gun range.
It all started last year, when Raja'ee Fatihah entered the Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range in Oktaha, Oklahoma, with the express purpose of testing the limits of the signage posted at the entrance.
Save Yourself Survival made national headlines, as did a few other gun shops around the country that posted similar Muslim-free signs following the 2015 Chattanooga, Tennessee, shooting in which five servicemen were killed by a Muslim shooter.
Fatihah indicated that he went to the gun range after he learned of their sign and that the shop owners were pleasant and welcoming to him, until he revealed to them that he was a Muslim.
"At that point," he said, "they started treating me with suspicion."
"I thought that by putting a face to the label of Muslim and giving them some personal interaction, some personal engagement, I could help them to understand that there was nothing to fear," he said.
Ultimately the owners asked Fatihah to leave their premises, claiming Fatihah acted belligerently and was confrontational. Fatihah denies this allegation.
Chad Neal, manager of Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range, said that his decision to eject Fatihah had nothing to do with segregation or race.
"I know the Quran says about lying to infidels and killing infidels," said Neal, who is also a medically discharged veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2003. "I don't want them practicing those religious beliefs on my range."
Fatihah is a board member with the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR went to the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit against the gun range.
"Whether the sign in question says 'no Muslims' or whether it says 'no coloreds' or whether it says 'no women' or 'no Christians' or 'no Buddhists' ...it is just as un-American and fundamentally it is just as wrong," said Oklahoma ACLU Legal Director Brady Henderson.
"The only thing the law prohibits is if somebody denies services strictly on the basis of religion, and that didn't happen here," said Robert Muise, attorney with the American Freedom Law Center, which is representing Neal.
Muise also represented Florida gun shop that was sued by CAIR in a similar lawsuit. That case was dismissed by a federal judge on the grounds that CAIR could not prove that anyone had been harmed by the shop's Muslim-free policy.
This case may hinge on whether or not Fatihah can prove that he was rejected specifically because of his religion, or if the gun range can show that he was turned away because of his belligerence.
This case raises all sorts of questions:
- Does Fatihah have a point? Is it unconstitutionally discriminatory to post a "Muslim-free" sign?
- On the other hand, is the sign protected as free speech?
- Should a business have the right to serve or not serve customers however they desire?
- What does Fatihah mean when he says that "they started treating me with suspicion"? If they were, would that suspicion be justified?
- What counts as unjustified religious discrimination?
Michael McConnell, Director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center, said that every state has its own laws covering discrimination in "places of public accommodation," but the types of discrimination vary according to state. Not all businesses may be covered by the U.S. Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. Some establishments may legally skirt the law if they qualify as "private clubs."
Clearly, there is some strong anti-Muslim sentiment in many segments of American society today. Is that sentiment unjustified, or is it a sensible human response when confronted with radical Muslim terrorism at a worldwide level?
Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists, but most terrorists do appear to be Muslims.
Finally, what are, or should be, the extents to which a business owner can go to operate according his or her own conscience?
"We do not want to have any jihadis training on our gun range and then going down to our local armed services office and having better marksmanship than they showed up with," said Neal. "I've seen what Muslims and jihadis do to people. It's just not going to happen in my store."
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