Feb 18, 2016

In March 2013, Robert Ingersoll sought to buy flower arrangements for his wedding from his favorite florist, Arlene’s Flowers, which is a for-profit florist shop. The store’s owner informed him that she would not serve him on this occasion, because she believed Ingersoll’s marriage to a man was a sin.

The state of Washington and Ingersoll, along with his spouse, separately filed suit against Arlene’s Flowers. Both complaints asserted that Arlene’s Flowers had violated Washington’s nondiscrimination statutes, which prohibit public accommodations like Arlene’s Flowers from denying service on the basis of sexual orientation. Arlene’s Flowers argued that its religious exercise and free speech rights, as protected by the federal and state constitutions, allowed it to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking wedding-related services.

The trial court consolidated the two cases and ruled for the plaintiffs, finding that Arlene’s Flowers violated Washington’s anti-discrimination statutes and that discrimination against same-sex couples was not protected by the First Amendment or the Washington state constitution. Arlene’s Flowers appealed this decision to the Washington state supreme court, which has the discretion to choose whether it will take the case now or whether it will let the lower, intermediate court of appeals hear it.

On appeal, in addition to its free-exercise arguments, Arlene’s Flowers has stressed that the service it provides—flower arranging—is art, and as such is protected by the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Arlene’s Flowers contends that forcing it to serve same-sex couples constitutes constitutionally prohibited compelled expression. In February 2016, we filed an amicus brief, arguing that flower arranging is not speech and, should the court rule that it is, Arlene’s compelled-speech argument would permit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation in almost any public accommodation. (Read Arlene's opening brief, Ingersoll's response brief, Washington's response brief, and Arlene's reply brief.) 

In March 2016, the Washingtion Supreme Court agreed to retain the case and bypass the intermediate court of appeals. Oral argument was held in November 2016.