The U.S. Supreme Court today sent back for more review Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, one of several cases circling the court system involving a business that wants to use religious beliefs to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The Supreme Court did not say the Washington Supreme Court got it wrong last year when the state court ruled the flower shop violated antidiscrimination laws when it refused to serve Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, a same-sex couple seeking flowers for their wedding. Rather, the U.S. Supreme Court simply wants the state court to take another look at the case in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion earlier this month in the similar Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case.
To recap the Masterpiece decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple – while at the same time reaffirming our nation’s commitment to combating discrimination against LGBTQ people in businesses open to the public. That seemingly contradictory decision was narrowly tailored to the specific details of the Masterpiece case and hinged on what the Supreme Court felt were statements of religious bias made by the Colorado agency that first considered the case.
The court did not hold that the bakery or any business has a religion-based right to refuse to serve same-sex couples. In fact, the majority opinion repeatedly highlights that the government has strong interests in ensuring equal access to goods and services for LGBTQ people, and in combating the stigma that arises from refusals of service. Because combating discrimination is so important, the court recognized that businesses must not subject members of protected groups to “indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
That bodes well for a positive outcome in the Arlene’s Flowers case. There is no evidence of hostility toward religion in that case; in fact, the Washington courts repeatedly recognized that religious views are protected.
We’re optimistic that the Washington court will come to the same conclusion it reached previously: that religion can’t be used as justification for discrimination and that businesses open to the public must be open to all.
The Arizona Court of Appeals has already reached that conclusion: Three days after the Supreme Court issued the Masterpiece opinion, the Arizona court cited Masterpiece when it ruled against Brush & Nib Studio, a calligraphy shop seeking a religious exemption to Phoenix’s antidiscrimation laws. Brush & Nib, Masterpiece Cakeshop and Arlene’s Flowers all are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group pushing an agenda that religious beliefs should give people and businesses the right to discriminate.
Americans United will continue fighting this harmful agenda. We filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the Masterpiece and Arlene’s Flowers cases (in fact, the Washington Supreme Court cited our brief in its last Arlene’s Flowers opinion). We also have filed briefs in similar cases in Kentucky and Minnesota.
Our laws should be used as a shield that protects religious freedom, not a sword wielded to discriminate against and harm others. Our country is strongest when no one gets to impose their religious beliefs on anyone else, which ultimately protects religious freedom for all of us.