A decision by a tax preparation business not to serve a lesbian couple has created the newest battleground in establishing the line between freedom to practice one’s beliefs and freedom to live without facing illegal discrimination.
Bailey and Samantha Brazzel sought to have their tax work done at Carter Tax Service in Russiaville, Ind., but the proprietor turned them away, based on the business owner’s religious beliefs.
Nancy Fivecoate, 66, the business owner, claims her views are protected under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law in March 2015. An amendment intended to protect LGBT people from discrimination was added the following month.
The law prohibits the government from interfering with a person’s practice of religious beliefs unless it has a compelling reason to do so. A federal version of the law, introduced by then U.S. Rep. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
The issue of religious freedom versus discrimination was central to the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who won a U.S. Supreme Court case in June after refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
In Indiana, Fivecoate says she merely turned down the couple’s business and did not seek to draw broader attention to her decision. She claims she was within her legal rights to do so.
"I've never repeated her name to anyone,” Fivecoate told the Indianapolis Star about Bailey Brazzel, who visited her office. “I haven't answered social media. I've done absolutely nothing except (follow) my religious beliefs. I cannot put my name on that return."
"The LGBT want respect for their beliefs, which I give them,” Fivecoate wrote later, in a statement to WTHR-TV of Indianapolis. “I did not say anything about their lifestyle. That is their choice. It is not my choice. Where is their respect for my beliefs?”
But Brazzel, 25, claims that Fivecoate’s rejection of her business constitutes illegal discrimination.
"I went in there to have my taxes done, not push my beliefs on her,” Brazzel told the Star. "It's not professional to me to turn someone away because they do something differently than you would like.”
“My taxes don't have anything to do with our marriage," Brazzel continued. "If you are going to run a business, you should be professional enough to do business with people from all types of backgrounds.”
Brazzel said she and her wife ultimately took their business to another company, but decided to go public with their story.
Whether the couple intends to pursue legal action was not clear.