Is it illegal to discriminate against bikers? It only stands to reason that it is, right? The laws are more complicated (and less designed for your protection) than you might think.
The government — whether it’s the feds, the state, your county, or any government-owned entity — cannot discriminate based on race, gender, or national origin. They can’t forbid you from belonging to a motorcycle club, or wearing clothes that give a message they don’t like, such as your club patch, for example.
The rules are not-so-simple when it comes to private businesses, however. Although business can’t discriminate based on race, in some states, they can based on the fact that you ride a motorcycle! The First Amendment DOES NOT protect you from local business owners discriminating against you because of the clothes you wear, your membership in a motorcycle club, or the fact that you ride a motorcycle. The rules governing that kind of discrimination vary from state to state.
In California, the relevant statute is called the “Unruh Civil Rights Act” (California Civil Code section 51 et seq.) This statute provides that “All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin or blindness or other physical disability are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.” Any person whose exercise or enjoyment of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States has been interfered with, or attempted to be interfered with may institute and prosecute a civil action for injunctive and other appropriate equitable relief, including the award of compensatory monetary damages. The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Cohen v. California 403 US 15 (1971) that individuals have the constitutional right under the First Amendment to wear clothing which displays writing or designs.
How this applies to bikers is, after forty years, still shaking out. As it stands, the protection applies to clothing, but not necessarily to any other kind of anti-biker, anti-motorcycle discrimination. And has not been applied to prevent companies from refusing service to motorcycle club members who are wearing their colors. The fight continues.
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