The U.S. Supreme Court Monday granted the appeal of a florist in Washington state who was fined after refusing to sell flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. The ruling kicks the florist’s case back to the Washington state courts “for further consideration in light” of the recent decision in another similar case out of Colorado.
The case in Washington state dates back to 2013, when Barronelle Stutzman — the owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland — refused on religious grounds to provide flowers in 2013 for the wedding of two longtime customers, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed.
Ms. Stutzman explained that as a Southern Baptist, it would violate her religious beliefs and her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” The owner and the customers hugged and the two men left. Afterward, they began posting to social media about the exchange and activist groups seized what they believed to be an opportunity.
“Rob was my customer and friend for over nine years,” Ms. Stutzman said in a statement. “I knew he was gay, and it was never an issue. I serve everyone. He enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him. I would gladly serve Rob if he were to come back to my shop today.”
“The attorney general has always ignored that part of my case, choosing to vilify me and my faith instead of respecting my religious beliefs about marriage.”
Kristen Waggoner, Senior Vice President of the U.S. Legal Division at the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, argued Ms. Stutman was “an artist with a conscience who cannot separate her artistic creativity from her soul.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom also represented Jack Phillips, the owner of the Denver-area Masterpiece Cakeshop and plaintiff in Hughes v. United States. In 2012, Mr. Phillips refused on religious grounds to make a custom wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled Mr. Phillips’ refusal violated state discrimination laws and that he had “no free speech right” to turn down Craig and Mullins’ request.
Three weeks ago, the Court tossed out a ruling against Mr. Phillips.
By a vote of 7-2, the justices ruled the proceedings before the Colorado administrative agency that considered the baker’s case were unfairly tainted by hostility to religion.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully asked the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider Barronelle’s case in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision,” Ms. Waggoner said in a statement. “In that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court denounced government hostility toward the religious beliefs about marriage held by creative professionals like Jack and Barronelle. The state of Washington, acting through its attorney general, has shown similar hostility here.”
However, the Court skirted on whether the creation and sale of custom floral arrangements or cakes to celebrate a wedding ceremony can be considered artistic expression. If so, then the Court needs to decide whether compelling their creation violates the free speech clause; and (2) whether the compelled creation and sale is against one’s religious beliefs violates the free exercise clause.