April 2019 Church & State Magazine - April 2019

AU And Allies File Brief In Washington Case Challenging Flower Shop’s Discrimination

  Rob Boston

Americans United, joined by a dozen religious freedom advocacy organizations, urged the Washington state Supreme Court on March 5 to affirm that a flower shop can’t misuse religious freedom to deny service to LGBTQ couples.

“It is unfathomable that in 2019, businesses are still seeking the legal right to discriminate against people who don’t live by the owner’s religious beliefs,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Our society and our courts rejected this thinking decades ago when we declared that businesses open to the public must be open to all and that religious beliefs could not be used as a basis for discrimination.”

Added Laser, “We will not go back to a time when religious and other minority groups were forced to go door to door, seeking a business that would serve them.”

In a friend-of-the court brief, the organizations urged the Washington high court to affirm that the flower shop cannot cite religious beliefs as justification for discriminating against same-sex couples. The court had already ruled against the business in 2017, but the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case to the Washington Supreme Court for additional review in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision last year.

AU’s brief in State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers makes several arguments:

  • The First Amendment prohibits religious exemptions that would harm innocent third parties, which would be the effect of Arlene’s Flowers’ request.
  • Public-accommodations laws like Washington’s support religious freedom because they extend anti-discrimination protections to religious minorities as well as to LGBTQ people and other historically marg­inalized groups.
  • The Masterpiece Cakeshop decision reinforced the long-standing principle that religious objections are not a constitutional license to discriminate.

The brief explains the result if Arlene’s Flowers prevails: “People like Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed would wake up each day knowing that, wherever they go, they may be turned away from public accommodations that deem them unfit to be served, and they would have no legal recourse as long as the denials were explained in religious terms.”

Joining Americans United in the brief are the Anti-Defamation League; Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice; Disciples Center for Public Witness; Disciples Justice Action Network; Equal Partners in Faith; Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America Inc.; Hindu American Foundation; Interfaith Alliance Foundation; Jewish Social Policy Action Network; National Council of Jewish Women; People For the American Way Foundation; and Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

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