T-Shirt Business Owner Rejects Atheist Client Due to Personal Beliefs

TIKI Printing declined an order to print t-shirts for the Atheists of Utah, stirring a social media controversy. Would you turn away business that conflicted with your beliefs?
May 10, 2013

A small printing shop in Salt Lake City is learning the dangers—and potential benefits—of refusing to serve customers for moral reasons.

TIKI Printing declined an order to print t-shirts for a local club of religious atheists called Atheists of Utah. The print shop’s owners are Christian and felt the message being emblazoned on the shirts—“Gotta Be Real Cuz God Aint!” —countered their personal beliefs. The club’s members, who planned to wear the shirts in a pride parade, say they were discriminated against.

 “I found it quite shocking that an organization that stated that they were Christian would not do business with someone because they were not Christian,” Connie Anast, an Atheists of Utah member, told local news station KUTV. The group said it is considering legal action against the shop.

The shop’s owner, Sam Saltzman, said he agreed to print the group’s name and website on the front of the shirt. He just refused to print the message on the back. “When you cross the line and become personal and really demean my beliefs and my morals ... is when I draw the line,” Saltzman said. He defended his right as a business owner to refuse any customer.

Regardless, his decision has put his business in a controversial spotlight—and caused a frenzy of publicity and social media buzz. Some members of the atheist club have left critical messages on TIKI’s Facebook page. At the same time, dozens of others applauded Saltzman for sticking up for his beliefs. “Thank you for your stand!!!!!” one supporter wrote. Saltzman posted several emails he received on his Facebook page and wrote that he was responding to as many messages and phone calls "as possible."

It’s hard to know at this point whether the groundswell of publicity will ultimately help or hurt TIKI’s business. On one hand, the shop may lose customers among locals who felt it discriminated against the atheist club. On the other hand, it might generate loyalty among locals who feel the shop held its moral ground. (Saltzman responded to criticism over their decision in an interview with Christian Post.)

A local newspaper, The Spectrum, wrote an editorial defending TIKI’s decision to not print the shirts: “The protection of the business owners’ religious rights are just as important as protecting the atheist group’s rights against having religion thrust upon them. This might be a totally different argument if there were only one printer in the Salt Lake area.”

Photo: iStockphoto