Recently the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization released the results of a poll it conducted regarding religious liberty issues. The group found that 64% of respondents did not support religiously based refusals to serve gays and lesbians. The question was germane in response to a case from the state of Washington where the Supreme Court ruled last month that a florist does not have a First Amendment right (either free speech or free exercise) to refuse to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding/commitment ceremony. I reluctantly admit that this is a fairly close case because it pits two very important rights directly against each other. And while I understand and sympathize with the hue and cry coming from conservative Christian camps because of this decision, at the end of the day, I still side with the gay couple who wants to be free of discrimination in the stream of commerce.

This case is actually much easier for me to resolve to myself legally than it is from a religious perspective. (I’ll attempt to explain both.) Legally this is a fairly easily disposed of discrimination case. Washington has a statute, much like all the states and the federal government that says people cannot be discriminated against in public services and accommodations based on race, sex, or sexual orientation, amongst other classifications. The courts have a rather simple test about whether a law violates the free exercise clause. As established by Oregon v. Smith, if the law in question is a neutral law that is generally applicable to everyone, than a free exercise exemption will not be granted. Because the Washington Law Against Discrimination applies to everyone and was not established to hamper the florist’s faith, then the law will stand against a free exercise challenge. The issues of general applicability is important to me. The law that protects the same-sex couple from discrimination is the same law that allows me to get a hotel room or a hamburger at a restaurant, regardless of what the owner thinks about Black people. So the question must be asked - What if someone, because of their religious beliefs, felt that Black people were substandard and therefore should not marry White people? Are we OK with that person being able to deny service to the couple based on miscegenation? I’m sorry I’m not. I don’t want to put the pressure on the consumer to be offended over and over again based on a characteristic that they believe is unchanging and is immutable to who they are. Regardless of our beliefs about sexuality or race, people being who they are is just an outward manifestation of the self-determination that is at the very heart of what is supposed to make us American. And if we are supposed be American, if we are supposed to be e pluribus unum, then I don’t want to create a tribalized society where we only interact with those who think and believe as we are. We don’t grow as people when we wall ourselves off from each other so that gay people are only served by those who don’t have problems with gay people, and Black people are only served by those who already don’t have a problem with Black people. How do we ever learn to get over our prejudices and misconceived notions if that is the type of society we create?

This is a much more difficult question from a religious perspective. I totally understand the idea that someone should not have to serve or lend their talents to people or to an event that they do not support personally. Once again I admit how tough a case this is. I have two thoughts about this that I think have some spiritual applicability. First, I don’t know what you really accomplish from a spiritual perspective by not providing the service. Even if you think that same-sex marriage is wrong, what sin have you committed by photographing their wedding? You haven’t supported the wedding; you haven’t even helped the wedding take place. You haven’t even given your tacit or implicit consent to the event. To be clear, I say this without one iota of facetiousness. I am really at a loss as to what biblical rule you violated by being paid to photograph a gay wedding. (Seriously, if you know the answer to this question please leave a comment.) It seems to me that all you have accomplished is the assuaging of your own feelings by making it more difficult for the gay couple to accomplish something that you think they shouldn’t do. There seems to be a certain pride in having set up an impediment in their way. Do we have a biblical imperative to do those types of things? I don’t know that we do.

Second, there seem to be to a lot of examples of Jesus providing services to people He did not agree with in terms of their lifestyle and the choices they made. He heals people and raises them from the dead with no regard for who they are or what they have done (at least as far as the biblical record shows). He helps people He is not supposed to help because they believe something different from Him. Furthermore, God does not stop blessing people, even as they use his blessings to facilitate choices and decisions that are not in line with what God wants for us.

I cannot stress enough how conflicted I am on this issue, as someone who approaches these questions as a defender of religious freedom. As much as I believe the position I’m advocating, I understand and in some ways agree with the arguments that are being presented on the other side. I have to admit, it bothers me that conservative Christians attempt to take advantage of free exercise to such an extent that I often feel that the right thing to do now is argue against it. Legally these things live in tension, and there must be a balance. I am not against free exercise in abstract. What I am against is Christians using their religious beliefs just to make life difficult for other people, in order to assuage their own feelings about what’s right and what’s wrong. In this space I wrote before about being like Jesus, focusing on the idea from Paul that we should not be looking out for our own selfish interests, but look to the interest of others, esteeming others as more important than oneself. When I think about love, the refrain echoes to me that true love seeks not its own. There are certainly limits to those biblical concepts, and as much as I understand the thought process of the people who disagree with me on this issue, I don’t see how this particular concept even comes close to those limits.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

If one enters the market place as a merchant, His/her. Responsibility ends with the sale . ( Given of course one is of age and sane.) On the farm in the 1930’s. We bought pipe tobacco to put in the dust bowl where our range hens would dust themelves to kill any mites etc. Never touched the stuff!


Matthew 5:48 – But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."
Jesus had just concluded talking about loving “one’s neighbor”. He is VERY broad in
His definition of “Neighbor”. Not only does “neighbor” include “those that love us”, "kind
to one’s friends or family [real or extended], but it includes the ACT OF Blessing, Loving,
and Praying for one’s “enemies”.
“Enemies” can include just people who “are not like me” in gender roles, in sexual preference,
in Color, in Spiritual and Religious beliefs, clothes preferences, food and beverage preferences.
Jesus says GODS PERFECTION is this –
Sending the warmth of the sun on those who do Evil, and those who do Good, equally.
Sending the rain to quench the thirst of those who do Evil, and those who do Good, equally.
The warmth of the sun, the rain watering the earth provides “daily bread” to those who do
EVIL, and to those who do Good, equally.

Matthew 7:1,2 – Do NOT Judge others, and YOU [I] will not be Judged [by God and man],
for You [I] will be treated [by God and man] as I treat others.

If a New Testament Christian REALLY follows the request of Jesus [the words of Jesus
and their meaning] then His WORDS go beyond the forcement of any National, State,
Local laws in treating people. Jesus calls us to practice being God, be “like” God, to
"BE" God to others.
God does NOT distinguish among humans, and we are to NOT distinguish providing
services among humans when providing services to humans.

A number of businesses around town here [primarily the bar and grills] DO have signs
at the entrance — "WE have the RIGHT to refuse service to anyone."
I would think that such a sign would work with any business. One can be nice in the
refusal. Just recommend they check out a similar business down the street or in town.


Don’t we do this when we request employers to accommodate our free exercise of religion, insisting on Sabbath observance? When we sue an employer, making it difficult for them, when they do not grant us special religious privilege?


What if you were asked to provide flowers or a cake to a polygamous marriage or a Satanic or Wiccan wedding ceremony? Are you saying that Christian business owners have no right to refuse to provide services to rituals that are totally against their morals and values?


Thanks for your article!

It doesn’t seem even remotely close. I see the rights of the customer, the gay couple. I can’t envision what rights the florist thinks they have that apply.

Right. What the florist did was discrimination made worse because they claimed the moral high ground.

This I think is the crux of my difficulty with your approach. I don’t understand this at all.

If you’re running a business where you offer a public service you don’t get to evaluate your customers’ morality to see if it is acceptable to you in order to determine whether or not you’ll serve them. And for good reason.

Your article doesn’t show this. Except for your several statements that you’re conflicted, the rest of your article indicates you’re not. Based on Jesus’ example and based on the law, there is only appropriate conclusion, which you have argued for most successfully. The conduct of the florists in that story is neither legal nor Christian: There is no example or teaching in the in the New Testament to support the idea of shunning people who don’t have the correct belief/lifestyle.

Yes, exactly. Christian business owners don’t. Jewish business owners don’t. Muslim business owners don’t. Atheist business owners don’t. Business owners don’t. That’s the law.

And, for Christian business owners, there’s also the teachings of Jesus Christ. Which indicate you shouldn’t refuse to service others, either.


Steve, you were not “banned” from the Lounge. I’ve sent you a message with more details and am happy to continue the conversation there. Thank you.


if neil gorsuch is confirmed to the supreme court - and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be - i doubt we’ll be having this conversation…this is because gorsuch doesn’t believe in gay marriage:

in addition, the legal scope of freedom of conscience will likely be given a major boost as soon as gorsuch is confirmed, as coerced complicity and moral culpability in someone else’s choices is a concern for gorsuch:

whatever trump’s assurances, a gorsuch confirmation, and only one additional confirmation in the gorsuch mold, will likely mean roll backs for LGBTers…they will also likely mean roll backs for abortion advocates:

It wasn’t too long ago that I argued in favor of the right of the florist, the baker and the photographer to refuse service for a same sex wedding. My reason was religious liberty on this issue rose to the same level as a doctor refusing, for religious reasons, to perform an abortion. I no longer see it in quite the same vein, because it seems like people are trying to use the excuse of religious liberty to register a defacto veto over the SCOTUS ruling in favor of same sex marriage. I’m relieved to see that Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, at his confirmation hearing state that same sex marriage is now settle law. That he was opposed to same sex marriage in 2004 means nothing today. So was I back then, and so was Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama, John Kerry.

I’m afraid that carte blanc religious liberty exemptions used to refuse service or majoritarian rights to gays would invite the very discrimination that has taken decades to overcome. I would think that it would be a far more sensitive issue to a christian fundamentalist opposed to same sex marriage and/or coupling to be required to not discriminate against such people as a landlord than as a baker. Yet laws are in place in many states that forbid discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation and I don’t see fundamentalists demanding exemptions to that, at least yet. I’m afraid that if we start down the road to granting religious liberty exemptions for bakers, florists, etc. to discriminate against providing service to gays, there will be no end to demands to repeal other rights.

I really wish this was not the stalemate that it has become. I don’t like to see bakers sued and forced out of business any more than I like to see gays discriminated against. It would be nice if both sides could just avoid each other and go their separate ways. As I see it there are two alternatives possible for these florists, bakers and photographers. They can state that they do not provide service for any weddings. Or they can post a sign in their business saying that they support traditional marriage, but will comply with all state nondiscrimination laws, in hopes gays will boycott them and move on. If not, they better be prepared to eat crow and comply. My guess is they might lose a lot more business than they bargained on.

Providing a service that one is in business for is no more an endorsement of anyone’s lifestyle, than an Adventist waitress at a diner serving a patron a dish of ham and eggs endorsing pork.


This sounds very much like giving licence to anyone desiring to get into any money making venture that is legal, regardless of the harm it may contribute to the end user. There does exist a difference between what is moral and what is legal.

Just discussed this and Tom’s response with the missus. Maybe I’ve misunderstood Tom and the tobacco was for the chooks (“free range hens”) rather than being commercially cultivated for market.

If so, my apologies to Tom.

Notwithstanding, though, my distinction between that which is legal and that which is moral still stands.

The argument in this article is following the same flawed logic of popular culture. There is a big difference between selling merchandise and providing a service. Cake decorating, floral arranging, photography, and hosting weddings can be properly called services. Is merchandise involved? Yes. But the merchandise requires a company to be personally invested in providing a unique service for the wedding couple. Also, these services require being on site to deliver, arrange, set up, or participate in the wedding. The cake is not just ordered from a factory. The flowers are not ordered online and picked up at the florist. The company actually invests themselves in providing a service to their customers. Some will disagree with me regarding cake decorating and floral arrangements being a service. However, I think any open minded person can easily see why Christian small-business owners experience discomfort over providing their services to weddings joining same-sex couples.

Homosexual sex should not be sanctioned by law. Same-sex marriage should not be a universal human right. Making it a criminal offense to consciously object to supporting homosexual sex or same-sex marriage is an attack on the freedom of individuals to pursue their personal happiness and follow their conscious. At the same time, homosexual people are still people and should enjoy all the same rights of other human beings without insisting that they wear a homosexual label to gain extraordinary rights. We are all equal under God.



Thanks for reading and engaging with the post. I’m interested in fleshing out the distinction you make between providing a service and providing merchandise. I wonder how you would solve what appear to me to be apparent dilemmas within your framework.

  1. Does the merchandise/service distinction only apply to wedding related industries? For example, if some other service provider has a religious objection to serving someone are they allowed to do so? Can a restaurant owner turn me away because he/she has a religious objection to serving Black people? Can a hotel refuse a same-sex couple a room because the owner has a religious objection to providing lodging to same-sex couples?

  2. How do you deal with the fact that providing merchandise is a service? More bluntly put, what happens when the owner has a religious objection to providing the merchandise? Can the owner of the ring shop refuse to provide rings to the same-sex couple? What about the tuxedo rental shop owner? What about the person who is selling you table ornaments? Where exactly are you planning to draw the line between merchandise and service and what happens to the religious objector who is one step beyond that line?

I guess I am an open-minded person, because I certainly see why this causes Christians discomfort. But seeing the position doesn’t mean I agree with it or think it’s correct. One other place where I think your argument doubles back on itself - I think you’re hard-pressed to make the argument that same-sex couples should have the same rights as everyone else while also arguing that they should be subject to discrimination that no one else has to face.

Thanks again for reading,



Thanks for reading an engaging with the piece. Just one point of clarification. Just because I have made a decision on where I stand on this issue, doesn’t mean I don’t see the problem from the perspective of those with whom I disagree. I can understand why Christians feel their free exercise right is being infringed upon as a changing culture creates circumstances that cause rights to come into conflict (to be clear the circumstances that has been created is same-sex marriage ceremonies, something that Christians did not really have to consider until recently). But the free exercise right has limits and it always has. I am simply arguing (and I know you agree with this) that discrimination against same-sex couples in societal commerce is outside of those acceptable limits.

I did not fully flesh out the free exercise argument because I feel any reader (especially a reader of Adventist thought) can go anywhere and hear that perspective. Maybe it would’ve been useful for me to link or footnote to the opposite position. However, I didn’t think it a prudent use of column space to make the other side’s argument in addition to my own. But I did think it was necessary for me to be cognizant of the fact that this is not necessarily an obvious issue from a theological, moral, or ethical perspective. (I did however, mention that this a fairly open and shut legal case, at least under the free exercise rubric we have now.)

Thanks again for reading,


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Who has a legitimate religious objection to black people? The pseudo-religions invented to mock real religions (Flying spaghetti monster) have muddied these waters as now authorities have to give them legitimacy and allow driver’s licence photos to be taken with a colander on their head. But you’re talking unreal hypotheticals. No religion that I know of rejects black people. (No, the KKK is not a religion.)

This wouldn’t be an issue if the activists didn’t deliberately target conservative Christian bakers/florists etc. There are enough businesses out there to get what you want. But no, they want to make an example of people who disagree with same sex relationships.

I think I’ve worked out why the push to accept LGBTIQ+ is so great. It’s not about freedoms or rights. It’s about finding out who it is that opposes it in order to be able to persecute them, as when the rest of the Christians reject the Bible as the expression of God’s unchangeable truth (which they have done to a large degree, and gender and sexuality is their last major battleground), pretty much only conservative Seventh-Day Adventists will be left. And who’s to say they won’t pick on the Sabbath after that? We are in the Great Controversy after all.


Like Jason, I see this issue as a case of counterbalancing equally imperative and legitimate rights. As one who holds to supreme Biblical authority in all things spiritual, I strongly uphold the right of conservative religious bodies and their respective institutions to maintain Biblical standards of sexual conduct in harmony with their convictions. At the same time, there are theologically liberal religious communities who subscribe to a different perspective on human sexuality, and religious freedom applies to them as much as to religious conservatives.

As I’ve often said in the context of the debate over legalizing same-sex marriage, the same religious freedom which permits me, as a Bible-believing Christian pastor, to refuse to perform a gay wedding, is also the freedom which permits the Unitarian pastor down the street to agree to bless such a relationship.

The tragedy in our present societal climate is that the term “religious liberty” has become a mantra for the defense of but one set of rights, rather than a defense of all such rights.

Like the author of this essay, I too have wrestled with the extent to which the rights of religious conservatives in the wedding industry should be safeguarded at the expense of the rights of gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry. The distinction some are attempting to draw between selling merchandise and providing a service seems a bit thin to me, though perhaps a case could be made for such a distinction based on what some might believe to be an undue burden that such services place upon the free exercise of their beliefs. It’s difficult to imagine that for every florist, baker, or photographer not wishing to service a same-sex wedding, that there wouldn’t be scores of other vendors who would be quite happy to have the business.

But what some in this conversation have cited as comparable examples should be borne in mind here, such as the Adventist waiter who serves ham and eggs to a restaurant customer. Or perhaps the conservative Christian landlord who rents a unit in an apartment complex to a heterosexual couple living together out of wedlock.

And what about the Protestant baker who might refuse to bake a cake for a Catholic wedding, on account of theological objections to transubstantiation and the Mass—which of course form an integral part of a Catholic marriage ceremony?

Some might be interested in an article by me published last year in Liberty magazine on this very subject, titled, “Religious Freedom and Discrimination.”

I fully agree with those in this conversation who would make a distinction between race and sexual conduct, as the former is not a choice while the latter most assuredly is. Sexual orientation may not be a choice, but the commercial interaction we are discussing here is about acting on a particular orientation, not the mere possession of such. At the same time, in a truly free society, consensual conduct between adults merits civil protection just as surely as the free exercise of religious faith, even if such conduct clashes with the moral values of society’s majority.

But to return to the racial issue, some folks here may have forgotten the extent to which many religious conservatives in former times—and not just extremists like folks in the Ku Klux Klan—believed that race-mixing and its facilitation was contrary to their religious faith. To be sure, the attempt to fabricate such a conviction from the Bible is an exercise in absurdity, something most Biblical fundamentalists had stopped trying to do even before the onset of the modern civil rights movement in the American South. But the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t only protect religious faiths with sound Biblical underpinnings. Beliefs that are Biblically ridiculous are protected in a free country too. (We could name a few!) Where problems arise is when these beliefs impede the acquisition of essential services such as food, housing, employment, education, commerce, and any number of others.

Perhaps some have forgotten that interracial marriage was also forbidden by law in much of this country, and that many—again, absurdly, to be sure—fabricated justification for such laws based on a distortion of the Bible. We can be sure there are still people in our country who oppose interracial marriage on religious grounds. But few if any of us would agree that such convictions should be enforced through civil law.

As I emphasized in the article linked above, ways and means must be found for the free exercise and expression of all convictions and consensual lifestyles to live together and differ with one another in peace. Christians and other devout religionists must recognize to what extent the conduct of business and other practices on their part facilitates a host of choices with which they don’t religiously agree, and establish more clearly in their own minds at what point faith-based restriction leaves off and one’s exemplary witness takes over.



Thanks for engaging in the conversation. While Kevin has addressed much of your commentary he didn’t reply to you so I am as a failsafe. A couple of points in response to your queries. First, don’t misconstrue my comment. Black people are a normative fact. No religion has an objection to them, as well no religion could because Black people exist. However, it was not even 60 years ago when you could’ve found people who would’ve had Christian, religious rationales for why they should not provide services for Black people or why they should not provide flowers, cakes, or other services for the wedding between a Black person and a White person. Of course, maybe you were just being terse with your language.

Here’s the other problem with your formulation. Who exactly will be the people deciding whether someone has a “legitimate” religious objection? I don’t think anyone believes we should have courts deciding that one person’s faith is illegitimate and therefore unworthy of free exercise protection while another is (of course, this is instantaneously an establishment clause violation). The problem is that someday some court might decide something you believe in is not legitimate, and then we have a serious problem. So while you may push back against whether these people who would be prejudiced against Black people exist I would caution that the most probable reason you think they don’t actually exist is because we’ve outlawed discrimination against Black people, religiously based or otherwise. I wonder what would happen if we removed those protections?

I couldn’t leave this comment though without registering my deep displeasure at even the suggestion that oppressed people care more about punishing us than they do about enjoying the same rights and freedoms that others unthinkingly enjoy. I would say we think too much of ourselves when we make those types of arguments.

God Bless,


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A cake maker should never be coerced into crafting something they deem to be immoral. illicit. That is the issue here…
Would Mr Hines, were he in that business, be comfortable, for example, making a cake for a white supremacist function that depicts hate and violence? How about a cake for a bachelor party with graphic sexual features on it? What about creating a cake with vulgar language, four letter words?

Everybody’s morality alarm goes off at some point. Their indecency alarm. I guess Hines’ morality alarm doesn’t go off in response to homosexual relationships and until everybody’s goes silent as well, the agenda marches on.

We should respect everybody’s right to disengage in participating in what they regard as wrong. It wouldn’t hurt to ask if the baker is uncomfortable with something controversial, right off the bat. Are they uncomfortable? Okay, good, move along, go give your money to someone more welcoming.

People are free to pursue whatever relationship they want but not free to demand that I participate in any capacity.


Thank you for your feedback, Jason. If a couple wanted to hire a photographer to take photos of them performing sexual acts, doesn’t he have the right to refuse? Race or ethnicity is not a moral or immoral issue. Same sex unions/acts have 1000s of years of taboos and condemnations heaped on them. Public nudity is another example. Just because someone thinks nudity is best doesnt mean that city ordinances against nudity are violating their rights.

A hotelier is not promoting affairs or rape by letting rooms out to people who then use the rooms to commit sin. The hotelier has no control or say about what happens behind closed doors. A landlord is not breaking the Sabbath by renting a home to non Sabbathkeepers. The renting of a house is not promoting Sabbath-breaking. A hotelier is not promoting sexual promiscuity or sexual violence by letting out rooms.

A florist, should not have to provide floral arrangements for a adult movie filming. A cake decorator should not feel forced into decorating a cake for a KKK celebration. A photographer should not be forced by law to photograph a wedding of nudists.

These are service companies not retail outlets.



Thanks for participating in the conversation. We have to make a legal distinction between protected classes and unprotected classes under the law, as well as in conjunction with an event. So the examples you mention are not in the same class as what we’re discussing here. Gay people are a class of people protected from discrimination. The KKK is not. The issue here is whether you make cakes for weddings. If you don’t make cakes for any weddings, than there would be no issue here, as someone noted before. The issue is whether there is discrimination of a protected group here. In the case of a same-sex wedding there is not.

I’ll assume because you didn’t address it, that you would then be fine with a baker or other service provider discriminating on the basis of race of gender if they have a religious objection.

Finally the solution can’t be to go to someone more welcoming. What if you have to live in a place where people aren’t welcoming?

God Bless,


PS - I wrote this under some time constraints. Please go read my latest response to GregW to see a better formulation of the point I am trying to make here. Thanks.

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Greg, I wrote this in quick fashion in response to someone else, but you formulate things a little bit differently so there are some things I can say here that I didn’t think of in response to the previous commenter. I find interesting the mode of argument you use in your second paragraph. Why I can’t I say that a florist or baker is not promoting same-sex marriage by making a cake or arranging flowers? In any event, you really haven’t addressed any of the problems I raised by your service/merchandise distinction. Furthermore, you make statements that others might disagree with. You say, “race or ethnicity is not a moral or immoral issue.” I agree with you on that, but there are others who would say, “You may be right, but serving them, or providing a wedding service for them when they’re marrying a White person is a moral or immoral issue for me under my belief system.” If you don’t believe me, go read the lower court decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia.The facts of that case took place in 1958, which is not that long ago. Mildred Loving only passed away 9 years ago.

In seeing your counterexamples, I see that there is a lack of knowledge on your part (and others) about how these cases are viewed. You look at the wedding as an event. As such, you ask me about other events and whether the baker should be forced to work for those events. The law looks at who is being served, the reason for refusal, and the event. None of the examples you give are what we call “protected classes” of people. Therefore, I can refuse service to all of them. Protected classes are things like race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. So if the baker doesn’t work for any weddings, then this would not be a problem. Here’s the problem (I think from your perspective) - the government doesn’t see any difference between an opposite sex wedding and a same-sex wedding. That’s because from a governmental perspective there is no difference. So as soon as the florist says, “I do weddings but I don’t do same-sex weddings” the question becomes why. And if the answer is because this couple is gay, then it is discrimination against a protected class. The KKK is not a protected class. Nudists aren’t a protected class. People watching an adult film are not a protected class. Ergo, your merchandise/service distinction still fails as a system that we can legally implement.

I cannot state how much I would love to find a system that could respect both of these rights. I’ve been working on this issue for a long time and have seen more than a few plans. None of them pass muster.

Thanks again for commenting,