Updates on FloristGate

The backstory is here.

A few updates since then:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation let all the florists know that Jessica Ahlquist was “under the public eye” so they would need to show identification when they delivered the flowers to her door. I don’t know if that warning was necessary — did the florists really need to know who Jessica was? — but it looks like it was a red flag for some of them.

Does that change your mind about how these florists reacted?

Also, according to a local ABC news story, one of the florists that was initially asked to deliver flowers (Floral Express) was legitimately closed for the day:

The others still sound like bigots to me:

Owner of Twins Florist in Cranston, Marina Plowman, was one of the businesses to reject the order.

Plowman said, “It’s my freedom of speech I refuse orders when I want and I take orders when I want.”

[Flowers by Santilli] owner Raymond Santilli said, “we have beliefs as well as the individual that’s in the middle of all this, and we just feel that it’s better for us as a business and the city itself just to stay away from this and not to cross the lines.”

Whether their refusals actually constitute “freedom of speech” is debatable and FFRF is in the process of “filing civil complaints” (PDF) against the florists that refused their order.

Sean Condon, co-owner of Glimpse of Gaia, the only company that agreed to deliver flowers to Jessica Ahlquist, is a little surprised to be receiving all the positive publicity, but he comes off looking great in this segment:

One reader passed along an email he received from Sean and Steph after thanking them for delivering the flowers:

“Thank you very much for your kind words.  It is an odd experience to be congratulated and thanked for doing something so ordinary.  We’d like you to know that the response has been overwhelmingly positive and that Jessica is getting more flowers today as are several charities in our area, thanks to donors.  This is a funny little chapter in the history of a state founded on religious liberty.

Thanks again – Sean & Steph”


About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/MrRonda-Mathews/100002819358459 MrRonda Mathews

    I went over to the “I Stand With the Cranston Florist’s” Facebook page and posted the like to the Rhode Island law showing  how it is illegal to do what they did.  No threats, no name calling, just the link to the law. And surprise, surprise. I was blocked and deleted. These people are every bit the bigot they appear to be. Go over and troll all you want. They deserve it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

    Plowman said, “It’s my freedom of speech I refuse orders when I want and I take orders when I want.”

    He seems unaware of the Civil Rights act of 1964:

    SEC. 201. (a) All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

    I’m waiting for a “Corporations are people and people have free speech” argument.

    • God

      Actually, I hate to say this, but unless they say it is “because of her atheism”, then the store has every right to not do business with them. I kick people out of my store all the time, mostly people who are openly bigots, NEDs the other shopkeepers have caught shoplifting, and people that try to leave kids in my game store because they think its a free daycare.

      I know its because of the religious discrimination right now, but they could say it is because they do not want to be brought up into the drama associated with the name in the public media at the moment. Their crime could simply be not knowing the existence of the Streisand effect…

      The right to not do business with an *individual*, for no reason other than that *individual* being a dick, is an important right of the store owner.

      Now if, before this blew up, orders were also placed for sham parties (as cooperate entities receive flowers as well.) , with names like *the freedom from religion foundation*, *American Atheists*, etc, and they refused to deliver to addresses with those names, then you would have an excellent religious discrimination case. Which is why, after this story broke, the store owners would have to be *really* stupid to refuse orders like that.

  • Chris Ho-Stuart

    I noticed the request for ID to be shown from the start. It doesn’t alter my low opinion of the florists who declined to deliver. A decent human being, of any belief, would appreciate the need and recognize that it means Jessica is the one at risk… not the person delivering flowers. It is all the more reason to do their job of spreading a bit more beauty and encouragement in a messy world.

    So while I still have a low opinion of those who refused to deliver the flowers, I do suspect they have a credible defense against a legal claim for religious discrimination. There’s more here than just religion generally. This is one specific person with a lot more than only their religion being a problem, and perhaps cowardice might be a credible legal defense to the charge that they were merely discriminating against religion.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luther-Weeks/100001027655434 Luther Weeks

      It might be a legal defense, yet they certainly don’t put much faith in their god to protect them – from others who worship that same, so called, loving god.

      • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

        That was the thing that got me.  The Christians over on Twitter are crowing that the florists have a legitimate reason to deny service: “See, it wasn’t because they were bigots, it was because they were afraid of being attacked.”  Attacked by the violent Christians who have been threatening Jessica.  And that’s something to be proud about?

        • Wintermute

          And more to the point, who REALLY thinks that even the Christian assholes in this town would attack somebody who’s just making a delivery? Presumably the Ahlquist family is still able to shop for groceries and buy gas without religiotards torching the grocery stores and gas stations. It’s an empty excuse.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

    The “warning” from FFRF is the real story here…

    • Anonymous

      How so?

      • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

        I would like to hear a recording of the phone call placed by FFRF.

        • Anonymous

          Even if FFRF was trying to draw attention to religious bigotry do you have a problem with that? Would you say MLK was also just trying to stir up trouble???

          • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

            “…do you have a problem with that?”
            No, but you certainly appear to have a problem with me wanting more information. Interesting.
            MLK stirring up trouble? Yes, yes he was and for a good cause.

        • Rich Wilson

          http://ffrf.org/news/releases/florist-shops-violate-rhode-island-public-accommodation-statute/  sounds like some of them didn’t even get to the warning.  
          Santilli refused the order upon hearing who it was for.  
          Greenwood Flower and Garden accepted the order, then refused it after refusing threats of boycott.  Keep in mind, it wasn’t FFRF contacting florists directly.  FFRF contacted a local shop, who attempted to get a Cranston shop via the ‘Dove’ network.  It was florist-to-florist.
          And Glimpse of Gaia did receive a few phone calls and emails, but also a lot of orders from across the country for orders to be donated to local charities, hospitals, etc.

          I think that if the shops were worried about safety, they would have said so in the first place, not wait for the cameras.

      • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

        OR…I’d like to see the screenshots of the warnings if the order was sent via the internet. It would clear things up for me greatly.

        • Anonymous

          If you look at the video you can see a brief partial image of the order. It’s at about 1:17. From what I gather it says that Jessica is under the publc eye, to please be prepared to show ID when delivering the flowers, and a suggestion to call ahead of arrival.

          Obviously all intented to protect Jessica’s safety and hardly difficult requests to fufill.

  • Winto_bungle

    Heres some other bits weve learned over at the FB group (http://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Dont-Stand-With-The-Cranston-Florists/212778555482883)

    The florist that was closed may have been closed a few days before but why it was closed when it should have been a normal working day is a mystery.

    ABC6 news claimed a police escort may have been required – there is no record of this anywhere else and seems fabricated for effect. The florists were noted she was in the public eye and and would need an ID on the door – apparently this is enough to refuse service.

    One florist accepted the order but then received threats from christian so refused the order. only the other florists knew this order was being placed to start with, someone tipped the protesting christians off.

    Santilli and Twins both cite they didnt want to get involved, but by refusing the order they have got involved.

    Santilli admits it was a religious decision, and that he had never refused an order before. This is illegal.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      “someone tipped the protesting christians off”

      This is the bit I don’t understand – someone from the FFRF rings a florist and orders some flowers, how does anyone else hear about it to start protesting?

      • Winto_bungle

        Floral Express accepted the order (after the FFRF had gone to 3 other florists first) but later pulled out after threats of a boycott.

        The only people who knew about the order being placed at this point was the FFRF, the florist placing the orders on behalf of the FFRF at their end and the 3 other florists who refused the orders.

        Considering Santilli admitted to religious discrimination (and knew who Jessica was) it is not too far fetched to think that one of these 3 florists tipped off the local community in some way.

  • Anonymous

    I think the “hassle” and “safety” excuses are just that – excuses.  If these people had an order to deliver into a military installation, would they balk at the driver having to show their ID?  If that driver was asked to show ID by someone who wasn’t expecting a delivery before they opened the door of their home, would they refuse to deliver?

  • Anonymous

    I doubt that attempts to twist this into florists refusing for their own safety based on the FFRF note is going to fly:

    -  The FFRF note is obviously intended to imply that Jessica is at risk, not any florist, hence the need for anyone delivering the flowers to show ID.
    - The Twins florist has stated that they’re refusal was them using their own freedom of speech. That means that they were expressing an opinion in their refusal to send an atheist flowers, and this totally undermines their “It was a hassle, it was about security” argument. If they think they were using freedom of speech, then they’ll soon become much more aquianted than they ever wished to be with the Civil Rights Act.
    - The Santilli florists have even less of a fig-leaf than the Twins florists. It’s not only that they said a more subtle “We all have beliefs”, which itself points to it being ideological. Not content with that risky statement, Claudia Colardo-Santilli said:

    “We chose not to make the delivery because first of all, most important it’s our belief system,”

    There’s something paradoxically reassuring about open bigots. They do save you the trouble of having to deal with double talk by spelling out their motivations in black and white. Thank you Mrs. Colardo-Santilli for making the job of the FFRF lawyers so much simpler.

    • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

      - The Twins florist has stated that they’re refusal was them using their
      own freedom of speech. That means that they were expressing an opinion
      in their refusal to send an atheist flowers, and this totally undermines
      their “It was a hassle, it was about security” argument

      I just realized this myself, and it’s such a great point. Saying it’s about freedom of speech means it definitely wasn’t about ‘security’. The warning is supposed to be about how Jessica feels threatened, not how the florists should worry.

  • Anonymous

    It appears the” I Stand With the Cranston Florist’s” is no more. It was, after all, a crime against proper grammar.

    • Winto_bungle
      • Rich Wilson

        Wow.  Logical fallacies abound.  I’m not going to bother commenting there.  This post is linked there.  But one of the main arguments seems to be that we’re all hypocrites because we use money with ‘God’ on it.  Yeesh.

        Edit: and the ‘pro-florist’ page has 54 likes, the ‘anti’ has 443.

        • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

          I’m English – I have money with Darwin on it.

          • TiltedHorizon

            Seems ‘heathen’ money is worth more.

  • Newavocation

    Annie and Dan at FFRF do such a great and courageous job showing us how bad religious privilege can be. With Valentines Day coming up, maybe we could blanket FFRF’s office with flowers of appreciation.  I assume the florists around Madison are a bit less bigoted would deliver flowers to them. 

  • Anonymous

    The last sentence at the end is interesting too in this whole thing. It’s true.Rhode Island was founded by people who fled the Puritan theocracy in Massachusetts Bay.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    I think it’s deeply disingenuous for those here to call it religious discrimination. We all know in that area there is a stigma attached to Jessica Ahlquist and anything associated with her. None of those florists said anything about Jessica being an atheist. The level of controversy and mark of disgrace Rhode Islanders have associated with Jessica is something separate from her religious views. Refusing the delivery because of the stigma and hostility surrounding the recipient is entirely different than refusing the delivery because of the recipient’s religious views.

    • Wintermute

      You’re right, Larry. Likewise, the grocery stores in town should refuse to sell food to the Ahlquists. Not because of bigotry, just because they don’t want to risk the hostility and stigma associated with the family. And if they should fall ill, or get injured, and need medical care, we certainly wouldn’t blame a doctor who refused to treat them out of a desire to avoid getting involved in such a contentious situation.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        I don’t think you quite understood my point.

        I wasn’t rationalizing the behavior of the florists, I was pointing out the ignorance the commenters. To strictly call it discrimination of religious views is ignoring the obvious stigma and hostility surrounding Jessica. There’s much more to the motive of these florists than just purely “She’s an atheist so I don’t want to deliver to her.”

        • Aaron Scoggin

          “She’s a publicized atheist, so I don’t want to deliver to her.”

          Nothing she did was unconstitutional. She simply stood up for what she believed was right and now it’s like she has the plague. I don’t think they refused because she’s an atheist, but because she’s an atheist that didn’t just shut up.

          • Semipermeable

            That’s true.
            I see Larry’s point that saying they refused to deliver to her because of her lack of religion is an over simplification. I’m sure they’ve delivered to atheists before (probably because religion isn’t exactly an issue in a mother’s day flower basket). 
            However Jessica has become a bit of a symbol for both sides you could say. She spoke up on a mundane issue of a banner that has been blown up when the school refused to take it down and required a court hearing. To them, she is a symbol of religion being ‘kicked out of schools’ and of their religion not always being right and having its way. They just hear from the news and their churches that she is somehow anti christian and did something anti christian and received publicity. 

            Aaron is right, it isn’t just that she’s an atheist and they’ll never deliver to atheists, it’s because she’s an atheist who didn’t shut up and live quietly under the accepted view point.

          • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

            I think it’s more something along the lines of “She’s all over the news and the people around here want her head on a plate, so I don’t want to deliver to her.”

            She’s the hot potato and everything it touches catches the plague. They’re afraid their business could face vandalism, boycotts, or their employees could be harmed. Is that not a reasonable concern? The florist in the next state probably doesn’t need to worry about these things, or at least not as much.

            • Anonymous

              Larry: I understand your point perfectly.  You believe that Christians are such violent thugs, such incredibly intolerant assholes, that anyone who even associates in a professional fashion with someone those Christians don’t like can legitimately say they fear for their safety and well-being.

              Congrats, you’ve got a lower opinion of Christians than most atheists.

        • Wintermute

          I understand your point perfectly, and I think it’s ridiculous. Whether the florists have refused service because they really hate atheists, or simply because they see this delivery as politically problematic, the fact is they’re refusing to serve someone whose political views they see as problematic. In what way is that better than someone refusing service on grounds of race, or religion, or creed?

          The smart thing to do here is make the delivery, and if anyone complains, your response is “we are a business, and we don’t let our personal values prevent us from providing a service.” I don’t even see that as a position requiring much in the way of moral courage. And yet they still decided to refuse the delivery. They made it about Jessica’s beliefs, whatever they might feel about religion.

          • Wintermute

            You know, Larry, I apologize. Upon re-reading your second post, I agree with you that it’s probably oversimplifying the matter to act as though this is pure religious discrimination–it could be, but it could also just be spinelessness in the face of a public outcry. It’s still pathetic, and shameful, but it’s probably not just about atheism. So apologies for the tossed-off response.

  • Erik Cameron

    I love the internet

  • Sharon Hypatia

    I delivered flowers for Mother’s Day for a week several years ago. I used my own vehicle & dressed in my normal clothes,  so you couldn’t tell I was delivering for a florist – except for the bouquet in my hands. 
    Posing as a utility worker or someone delivering flowers  is an old
    movie plot for the good guy / bad guy to get the front door open and
    access to his target. All you have to do is buy a bouquet at the grocery store and pretend to be a delivering it.  
    As FFFR  didn’t know if the local florists would be using a company vehicle (with their name on it ) or a private vehicle, asking for the driver to show some ID is a sensible precaution to protect the recipient.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve never heard of refusing to serve being called a free speech issue.  It is, but the more specific term is freedom of association, and there’s a more specific term I’m forgetting that people use to argue that businesses should have a right to deny service to anyone, for any reason.

  • Anonymous

    Ahem, that “anti-religious group” has a name….

    If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were trying to make the FFRF look like some kind of shadowy malevolent entity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gregm766 Gregory Marshall

      Yeah, I had a problem with that too. Plus the fact that they aren’t explicitly anti-religion. They are just pro separation of church and state.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

    The late Blossom Dearie could sing this for Jessica today.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?daWp-Pls

    Enjoy!

  • Veronica Abbass

    The US economy must be recovering if  the management of  independently owned florists can afford to refuse orders.

  • Anonymous

    Still, big up to Glimpse of Gaia and everyone who donated, bought, passed on, and everything else to do with flowers and support. this really really really makes my day..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

    What seems to be missing from discussion is the fact that these supposed “moral christians” who have a list of “god given rules” that includes Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness (or whatever version you like) are all spinning and lying their asses off vis-a-vis their reasons for denying service.

    What a bunch of scumbags. Talk out of one side of the mouth is “be honest and do not lie” while at the same time they spin, lie, manipulate and mislead. 

    Fuckers.

    • Demonhype

      You’re forgetting the loophole.  Lying isn’t bad if it’s done for Jesus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    I doubt FFRF would win if this went to court. If the argument is religious discrimination it looks pretty difficult to prove that intent. Even if the florists denied service specifically because of Jessica’s stand against the prayer banner and having it taken down, you can’t exactly call that discriminating of religious view. Taking a stand against that banner and having it taken down was a constitutional view, not a religious one. One shared by atheists and theists alike. It was illegal, government shouldn’t be endorsing a religious message, there was no secular reason to keep the banner. Some can be opposed to that, but that doesn’t explicitly mean an opposition to atheism.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CE6FTHLHRMXUGOOGCMG3ROXBH4 David

      Even if the florists denied service specifically because of Jessica’s stand against the prayer banner and having it taken down, you can’t exactly call that discriminating of religious view. Taking a stand against that banner and having it taken down was a constitutional view, not a religious one.

      Larry, the same civil rights laws that bar discrimination based on religion also bar punishment or reprisals against people for redressing a breach of their civil rights.

  • Alex

    Let me get this straight: most businesses flat out refuse to serve someone on the basis of their religion, which is illegal by Civil Rights Act, as many noted above, and that’s freedom of speech and all, but one guy who stands up and does his job should be “ashamed of himself”?

    Welcome to the backwards country.

  • jp in GA

    wow you guys are full of hate. I really hope hemant does not spend time in class on ANY subject other than math to push his beliefs! Why is it ok for you to harass Christians in an in your face way for passive evangelism. Christians don’t want special treatment, but the are entitled to freedom from persecution by people like you. Fire away:)


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