Discrimination by Businesses

Good News And Bad News From The Supreme Court

  Rob Boston

The U.S. Supreme Court ended its term Friday, and as the old saying goes, there was good news and bad news.

The Good News: The court announced it would not hear a case called Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington. The case, brought by the Christian nationalist legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, concerned a florist named Barronelle Stutzman who refused to provide an arrangement for a same-sex couple’s wedding.

Officials in Washington state sued Stutzman for violating a state civil rights law that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (among other factors). Stutzman claimed a right under religious freedom to discriminate, but the Washington Supreme Court ruled against her twice.

The case knocked around in the courts for years. The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear it brings the matter to a close. The high court didn’t comment on the case other than to note that Justices Samuel A. Alito, Clarence M. Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch wanted to hear it. (It takes four votes to get a case on the court’s docket.)

The court’s decision to punt on the case is an indication that the justices remain divided on the question of whether religious freedom includes a right to override other rights and discriminate. While the court’s far-right bloc seems to be leaning in that direction, they don’t seem to have a working majority yet.

Americans United is pleased that the high court said no to this case, but we suspect this issue will be back.

The Bad News: The court accepted another voucher case. Carson v. Makin concerns a law in Maine that allows high school students in some rural areas that lack a public school to attend private, nonreligious institutions at state expense. Some parents are demanding that schools that provide religious instruction be included as well.

Lower courts said Maine could exclude these religious schools, but the parents, backed by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-oriented legal group, appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has not been trending well in questions of taxpayer aid to religious institutions, and the justices’ decision to hear this case is troubling. You can read a legal brief AU filed in the lower courts here, and here is a statement we issued July 2.

This voucher case, along with a high-profile case dealing with abortion rights that the court added to its docket earlier this year, guarantees that the next term will be a blockbuster. It all starts on Oct. 4.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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