Jun 07, 2019

Yesterday, the Washington state Supreme Court held – once more – that a flower shop had no constitutional right to violate anti-discrimination laws when it turned away Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, refusing to provide floral arrangements for their wedding. And the court explained that enforcing neutral anti-discrimination laws against businesses open to the public is not anti-religion.

The Washington court had already rule against the flower shop about a year ago, when it first heard Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. The flower shop asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review that ruling, but the U.S. Supreme Court instead directed the Washington top court to take a second look at the case in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Americans United submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Washington court, explaining that the Masterpiece decision doesn’t change the outcome. The state supreme court agreed with us in its decision yesterday.

You might remember that in Masterpiece, the U.S. Supreme Court barred Colorado from enforcing its anti-discrimination law against a bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. In ruling for the bakery, the court determined that two commissioners at the Colorado enforcement agency had made statements that, in the court’s view, indicated anti-religion bias against the baker. But the court explained that religious-liberty claims must be resolved “without subjecting [LGBTQ] persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

In the Arlene’s case, therefore, the flower shop attempted to argue that Washington’s enforcement of the law was biased in the same way as Colorado’s in Masterpiece. The flower shop attempted to argue that the Washington officials tasked with enforcing the state anti-discrimination law had acted with hostility toward religion by enforcing the law against the flower shop. Essentially, what the flower shop was arguing is that enforcing anti-discrimination law against a business is anti-religious, and unconstitutional, when the business says that it has a religious motivation for the discrimination.

The Washington Supreme Court disagreed. After all, applying the law equally to both religious and nonreligious actors can’t possibly be biased. And as Americans United pointed out in a legal brief, anti-discrimination laws actually protect, not harm religious liberty.

In addition to holding that Masterpiece did not change the outcome of this case, the Washington court reaffirmed its earlier decision that neither free speech, nor freedom of association, nor religious freedom gives the right to violate anti-discrimination laws. Quoting our brief, just as it did one year ago, the court explained that allowing custom-order businesses to sidestep anti-discrimination laws “would create a ‘two-tiered system’ that carves out an enormous hole from public accommodations laws: under such a system, a ‘dime-store lunch counter would be required to serve interracial couples but an upscale bistro could turn them away.’”

Alliance Defending Freedom, the Religious Right legal group behind the flower shop’s case, announced plans once again to seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Americans United continues to fight in courts and legislatures to prevent the rhetoric of religious freedom being used as a weapon to violate anti-discrimination laws. Please consider supporting our work!