The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking a grocery chain to bake a freethinking group a cake.
A Wegmans outlet in Fairfax, Va., refused to decorate and sell a cake to the Ex-Muslims of North America. On May 31, the organization's staff emailed the Wegmans bakery in Fairfax and requested a cake to celebrate the group's third anniversary. The caption was to read, "Congratulations on 3 years!!" and the cake was to feature the group's name and logo:
But when the group's staffers called to confirm the design and status of the cake, they report that a "rude bakery associate" denied the request, calling it "offensive."
The organization's initial attempts at getting an explanation from Wegmans were unsuccessful. Finally, an employee called the group back and explained that the cake was declined because the store did not want to advocate "one way or the other." The worker said that the store has "a lot of employees who are Muslim," and that "employees may not know what this stands for."
Unlike the blatant discrimination some Christian bakeries have shown to gay and lesbian Americans in the name of religious freedom, this appears to be discrimination against customers' lack of religious belief, since Wegmans essentially refused to serve a group of nonbelievers. It raises serious concerns under federal, state, and local civil rights laws.
"First, the Civil Rights Act states, 'All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation,'" FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes in a letter to Daniel and Colleen Wegman, CEO and president, respectively, of the chain. "Second, refusing to provide a service to a group because of their former religious beliefs or current lack of religious beliefs violates state civil rights laws. And, finally, the Human Rights Ordinance of Fairfax County makes it 'unlawful for any person or public accommodation to discriminate against any person.'"
Even setting aside the legalities, the chain's discrimination is plain wrong. The cake was not for Wegmans, it was for the Ex-Muslims of North America. It wasn't denigrating a religion, and there is no need for Wegmans to construe the cake's message for employees about its meaning. Plus, Wegmans' behavior suggests that leaving a religion is offensive, reinforcing the stigma the 23 percent of Americans who identify as nonreligious face in this country.
"Apostates from Islam are regularly ostracized by their communities and families—simply for no longer sharing a belief," says Muhammad Syed, the president of Ex-Muslims of North America. "Our mere existence is considered offensive to some, and we face threats and abuse on a regular basis. It is a shame that an American business is choosing to mirror this sentiment."
To remedy the situation, FFRF is asking Wegmans to fulfill the original order without charge and educate its employees on their duty to serve patrons without discrimination.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of nontheism and the separation of state and church, with 24,000 members, including more than 500 in Virginia.