After attempting to file their taxes, Bailey Brazzel and wife Samantha were turned away for being a married, same-sex couple.
An Indiana tax service refused to help the couple, to which Brazzel felt she needed to make a statement.
“I went in there to have my taxes done, not push my beliefs on her,” said Brazzel, 25. “It’s not professional to me to turn someone away because they do something differently than you would like.”
Owner of Carter Tax Service in Russiaville, Indiana, Nancy Fivecoate, said she has been both harassed and abused after Brazzel came forward to the media as well as posted on social media about her experience.
Fivecoate states that she is the one being persecuted for her beliefs.
“I’ve never repeated her name to anyone…I haven’t answered social media,” shared Fivecoate in a phone conversation. “I’ve done absolutely nothing except (follow) my religious beliefs. I cannot put my name on that return.”
Due to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, there have been controversies across the nation from cake bakers, pizza makers and now a tax preparer who have refused services based on business owners and employees religious beliefs.
And technically, it is allowed under state law — that is, if a local ordinance says otherwise.
Brazzel shared how Fivecoate has prepared her taxes for the past four years. This July, Brazzel and Samantha were married — with this year being the first year they filed a joint tax return.
On Tuesday, the couple went to Fivecoate’s office when she turned them both away.
“My taxes don’t have anything to do with our marriage,” Brazzel said. “If you are going to run a business, you should be professional enough to do business with people from all types of backgrounds.”
Fivecoat alleges she was polite and respectful to the couple, giving them a name of another tax service who would help them.
“I am a Christian and I believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” Fivecoate shared in an emailed statement.
She shares how she prepares taxes for gay clients but draws the line at same-sex marriage.
“The LGBT want respect for their beliefs, which I give them. I did not say anything about their lifestyle. That is their choice. It is not my choice. Where is their respect for my beliefs?”
An associate professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Steve Sanders, says the dispute is a “symptom of the larger controversy surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
“The sort of general principle of American law is a business is free to refuse to serve anybody they want for whatever reason except for where the law has provided specific protections,” said Sanders.
But Sanders says the real question is should business owners be allowed to refuse service based on religious beliefs?
Most parts of Indiana, including the Russiaville address where Fivecoate’s business is located, there is no law that would prohibit a business from turning away a gay couple due to their sexual orientation.
Indiana’s then-Gov.-now-vice-president Mike Pence in the spring of 2015 signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that stirred most people in the state.
Known as RFRA, the law bars the government from stepping on the toes of a person’s ability to practice his or her own religion unless the government can prove it has a compelling reason to do so.
This includes the right to turn away some customers.
Others as well as the LGBTQ and business community said the law allowed discrimination and would drive companies away from Indiana.
After intense national criticism, lawmakers then passed a “fix” to RFRA that made it very clear that it could not be used to alter local ordinance that do prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
RFRA only applies in areas where the government attempts to prevent discrimination, according to Sanders, who noted it would not apply to the Russiaville tax service where there is no ordinance.
Sanders said that as there was no protection law, Brazzel’s only option was to go public.
“In a free market, we want to know as much as possible about the businesses we patronize,” Sanders shared, adding how the media attention will hurt the tax service while boosting it with others.
Brazzel said that both she and her wife went to another tax service, filing their taxes.
But even if the law does not agree — Brazzel says that she and her wife were victims of discrimination.
“It was shocking to us,” Brazzel said. “We hear about it all the time but nothing like that ever happened to us.”
Fivecoate says that everyone deserves respect and she should not be forced to do something that interferes with her beliefs.
“I have my religious beliefs, she has hers,” Fivecoate said. “I respect hers, she should respect mine.”
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