Florists in Cranston, R.I., are being accused of religious discrimination for reportedly denying delivery of their flowers to outspoken atheist Jessica Ahlquist, who recently won a lawsuit to remove a prayer mural from her high school's auditorium.
Some supporters of the floral shops, however, maintained that religion was not the cause of their refusal, but concerns over safety and possible negative repercussions to their businesses due to the widespread controversy of the case.
A Facebook support page called "I Stand WithThe Cranston Florists," not directly affiliated with any florist business, expressed on their wall, "It appears someone may have decided to further their agenda and subsequently generate revenue from sympathetic donors by reporting to the press that the reason the florists would not deliver is because the girl is an atheist."
"The florists made a judgment call not to deliver the flowers due to safety concerns and the possibility of negative impact to their businesses...[they] should not be subjected to arbitrary punitive actions for simply not wanting to deal with the hassle surrounding this issue in our community."
Many, however, remained unconvinced and continued to attack the florists for their "shameful," "un-American," and "discriminatory" practices.
The dispute began when Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, attempted to send a note of congratulations and a bouquet of flowers to Ahlquist for her recent victory in the suit.
FFRF, one of the nation's largest associations of freethinkers, had been actively supporting the 16-year-old's efforts to take down the prayer banner in her school since the beginning of her complaint.
On Jan. 17, Gaylor contacted a Madison-based flower shop to assist in the delivery of her congratulatory bouquet for the young atheist.
According to official documents, the FFRF stated that the flower shop contacted at least three different florists in Cranston trying to find one that would deliver a bouquet, but all three refused.
The Floral Express, notified via an electronic order service messaging system, stated that they were unable to fill the order and that they would be "closed on the requested delivery day."
Twins Florist similarly denied the order saying through the messaging system, "I will not deliver to this person."
Another flower shop, Flowers by Santilli, was contacted by phone, but also refused to get involved in the order upon hearing the name of the recipient.
Lastly, Greenwood Flower and Garden accepted the order, but later called and said it could not process the order because it was receiving many calls and e-mails from people refusing to give the shop business if it delivered the flowers to Ahlquist.
The FFRF noted that ultimately they were forced to do business out of state and placed the order with Glimpse of Gaia in Connecticut.
Saying that they were "harmed" by the refusal, FFRF filed a formal complaint with the Commission for Human Rights in Rhode Island, accusing one of the shops, Twins Florist, of violating Rhode Island General Law 11-24-2.
The law reads: "No person, being the owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee of any place of public accommodation, resort, or amusement shall directly or indirectly refuse, withhold from, or deny to any person on account of race or color, religion, country of ancestral origin, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, or privileges of that public space."
"We believe Twins Florist...engaged in illegal discrimination based on religion to fill an order by FFRF," Rebecca S. Markert, the attorney representing FFRF, wrote in the complaint. "We believe this order was refused because of the customers' nonbelief."
"We ask that the Commission...commence an immediate investigation into this matter."
Matthew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told The Christian Post in an email that the florists had the right to refuse delivery however.
"Any vendor has the right to protect its employees from potential violence... the florist may properly decide to not inject itself or its employees into a situation where it becomes the target of violence or controversy."
Ahlquist's recent victory has made her the recipient of many threats, with members of the community fighting back and pursuing an appeal to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux as well.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung recently told ABCNews.com "I think it's gone too far. Our country was built upon civil discourse, not hate for one person exercising their constitutional rights."
Calls and emails made by The Christian Post to the Twins Florist and Floral Express seeking comment on the incident were not answered.