By Aaron Earls
The U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling against a florist who refused to create arrangements for a same-sex wedding, but did not rule on the case itself.
The unsigned order sent the case back down to the Washington Supreme Court, which had ruled against Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, and instructed them to reconsider the case in light of the recent ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
Earlier in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had been openly hostile to Jack Phillips’ religion, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop.
Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, who has represented Stutzman, said the Supreme Court “rightly asked the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider Barronelle’s case.”
Waggoner said Stutzman’s case is similar to Phillip’s. “Baronelle, like Jack, serves all customers, but declines to create custom art that expresses messages or celebrates events in conflict with her deeply held religious beliefs.”
That ruling did not address the core issue of whether a baker can refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding because of religious objections. It merely said the courts must take those objections seriously.
With many unanswered questions surrounding the Supreme Court ruling on cake baking, their instructions to lower courts on florists may not provide much guidance.
University of Texas Law School professor Steve Vladeck told CNN that it was possible “this one-sentence order will open the door to serious disagreements among the lower courts over when and under what circumstances business owners can refuse to serve same-sex couples.”
This extends even further what has been a lengthy legal battle for Stutzman.
In 2013, both the ACLU and the Washington state attorney general brought lawsuits against her for declining to create floral arrangements for the same-sex wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed.
Freed said he had been buying flowers from Arlene’s Flowers for 25 years. Ingersoll had also been a longtime client of Stutzman and even a personal friend.
Because of their history with the shop and relationship with Stutzman, they decided to use her for their wedding.
According to Stutzman, she told Ingersoll that she could not do his wedding ceremony because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” She said they hugged and parted respectfully.
Ingersoll, however, said he and Freed stayed up all night after that moment.
“It really hurt because it was someone I knew,” he told the Tri-Cities Herald. “It was eating at our souls. There was never a question she’d be the one to do our flowers.”
For Stutzman, it had nothing to do with Rob personally. “As deeply fond as I am of Rob, my relationship with Jesus is everything to me,” she said.
First, the ACLU sued her for discrimination on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed. Then, Bob Ferguson, the state attorney general, filed a lawsuit based on the state’s consumer protection act.
In 2015, a county superior court judge ruled against her in both cases, saying she had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law. She was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
After her appeal, the Washington Supreme Court heard the case in 2016. The next year, they ruled unanimously against her, finding that floral arrangements are not protected speech and her providing flowers would not serve as an endorsement of the ceremony.
In their June 25 order, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated those previous rulings against Stutzman and sent her case back to the same state court to reconsider in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling.
The Washington Supreme Court will have to decide if there was anti-religious bias against Stutzman.
Her lawyers believe such bias existed and point to the state not taking action against a gay owner of a Seattle coffee shop who threw out Christian pro-life activists after conversations became heated.
“The Washington attorney general’s efforts to punish her because he dislikes her beliefs about marriage are as impermissible as Colorado’s attempts to punish Jack [of Masterpiece Cakeshop],” said Waggoner.
According to Reuters, Ferguson has said there is no evidence of religious hostility.
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AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.