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The U.S. Supreme Court will soon get another chance to consider whether businesses can claim religious motivations for refusing service to LGBTQ people.
The case will come from the Washington State Supreme Court that ruled last week a business cannot claim a religious exemption from a state law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation.
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 a unanimous decision, the state supreme court rejected all of 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.
The U.S. Supreme Court could announce any day now whether it intends to hear an appeal pressed by another group, the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, on behalf of a baker in Oregon who refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple. That case, Klein v. Oregon, has been on the justices’ conference list for since February but the court has yet to say whether it will take the appeal.
In March of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear another appeal on the public accommodations issue from the Alliance Defending Freedom. That case, Aloha Bed & Breakfast v. Cervelli, involved the owner of a bed and breakfast in Hawaii who refused to accommodate a same-sex couple. There was no indication of why the court did not take the case.