The U.S. Supreme Court did not say Monday whether it would hear an appeal from a business owner seeking to refuse service to gay couples based on religious beliefs, but it will soon get a yet another appeal hoping to press that issue.
The high court’s orders list June 10 made no mention of Klein v. Oregon, an appeal pressed by the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, on behalf of a baker in Oregon who refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple. The petition in that case has been on the justices’ conference list since February. The court has two more conferences this month, so may indicate its plans soon.
Meanwhile, another appeal is underway from the Washington State Supreme Court. That court ruled last week that a business can not claim a religious exemption from a state law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation. And the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that has been pushing for such exemptions, said immediately that it would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case, Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, has already been to the U.S. Supreme Court once. In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the state supreme court’s initial ruling on the issue, also against the religious exemption. But the U.S. Supreme Court said last year that the state court should reconsider its decision “in light of” the Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado.
In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Supreme Court did not say a baker had a right to refuse to sell a cake to a same-sex couple by citing his religious beliefs. It said the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had demonstrated “clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs” of the baker.
In its ruling June 6, the Washington Supreme Court said it reconsidered the case and reviewed “substantial new briefing” on the issue and found that the courts which deliberated on the issue “did not act with religious animus” when they ruled a florist violated a state law by refusing to sell flowers to a gay couple.
The Washington case involves Barronelle Stuzman, the owner of a flower shop known as “Arlene’s Flowers” in Richland, Washington. Stuzman refused to sell flowers to a gay couple –Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. Both the state and the couple sued Stuzman, saying she violated the state public accommodations law. The lawsuits were consolidated.
Stuzman, who identifies as a Southern Baptist, told the couple she could not provide flowers for their wedding because of her “relationship to Jesus Christ.” The state court noted that she also defended her refusal by pointing to her denomination’s position that marriage can be between only one man and one woman. She said she had sold flowers to gay customers but had a policy of “don’t take same sex marriages” because providing flowers to such weddings constituted an endorsement of marriage for same-sex couples.
“However,” noted the Washington Supreme Court, “Stuzman acknowledged that selling flowers for an atheistic or Muslim wedding would not be tantamount to endorsing those systems of belief.”
In an unanimous decision, the state supreme court rejected all Stuzman’s arguments, including arguments that requiring she obey the state non-discrimination law violates her U.S. Constitutional First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion, free speech, and freedom of association.
It was no surprise the Alliance Defending Freedom announced it would appeal the state supreme court decision a second time. The Alliance has been pressing several such cases on the issue of religious exemption and bases many of its fundraising emails on those cases. One of its earlier efforts was Aloha Bed & Breakfast v. Cervelli. It involved the owner of a bed and breakfast in Hawaii who refused to accommodate a same-sex couple. But in March of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear that appeal. There was no indication of why the court did not take the case but some speculated there were too many procedural problems with the case.
Jennifer C. Pizer, director of Law and Policy for Lambda Legal, a national LGBT litigation group, said the Arlene’s Flowers decision from the Washington Supreme Court “confirmed a simple principle: our precious freedoms of religion and speech do not give businesses a license to discriminate against LGBT people.”