Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop on Monday, AU attorney Kelly Percival wrote, “Today’s decision is far from the last word on the subject.”
Kelly nailed it on the head: Yesterday, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled against Brush & Nib Studio, one of several businesses around the country that, like Masterpiece, is trying to use religious beliefs to justify discrimination.
Brush & Nib is a calligraphy shop represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Religious Right legal group that represents Masterpiece and several other businesses in related cases. Brush & Nib’s evangelical owners are seeking a religious exemption to Phoenix’s antidiscrimation laws (unlike Masterpiece, Brush & Nib hadn’t been approached for service by any LGBTQ couples; the studio is trying to pre-emptively gain the right to discriminate).
In the first court opinion to consider the Masterpiece decision, the Arizona appeals court unanimously ruled that Brush & Nib does not have a religious right to discriminate. The Arizona court even quoted the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece opinion: “Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. … it is a general rule that (religious) objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.”
To recap the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece only because the court felt that some comments made by members of the commission and the way it enforced other cases showed bias against religion. At the same time, the court reaffirmed the longstanding rule that businesses open to the public must be open to all.
As the opinion in Brush & Nib Studio v. Phoenix illustrates, the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece opinion will have an immediate and wide-ranging impact. A similar case, Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, has been pending Supreme Court review since last summer; the justices were expected to discuss the case yesterday and could soon announce whether they will hear argument in it next fall. There’s also a similar case pending in Kentucky (AU Legal Director Richard B. Katskee spoke to a newspaper about it on Monday) and another in Minnesota. AU has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in all three cases.
In our Supreme Court amicus brief in the Masterpiece case, we warned that allowing businesses to use religion to deny service to certain customers could open a Pandora’s box of discrimination – not just against people who are LGBTQ, but also based on religion, race or marital status. I don’t want to say “told you so,” but already stories are surfacing of people misinterpreting the Masterpiece ruling as giving a greenlight for discrimination.
In South Dakota, a Republican state lawmaker was shamed into apologizing after he posted on his Facebook page that businesses should be able to turn away customers – even on the basis of race, something the Supreme Court rejected 50 years ago. A Tennessee hardware store owner who began displaying a “No Gays Allowed” sign after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that granted marriage equality was back in the news, celebrating the Masterpiece decision and doubling down on his perceived right to discriminate.
Americans United will continue to fight in court, in legislatures and in communities for the rights of all to live free from discrimination. In a diverse society like the United States, religious freedom is truly achieved only if businesses remain open to all regardless of their beliefs. Our country is strongest when we are all free to practice our religion, or no religion, as we choose – without hurting others.
P.S. AU is proud to be a participant in the Capital Pride celebrations in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Come join us if you’re in the area, or participate in Pride events in your community – you can download an AU “Keep Your Dogma Off My Rights” rally sign to take with you!
(Photo: AU CEO & President Rachel Laser speaks in front of the Supreme Court following the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.)