Discrimination by Businesses

13 Religious Freedom Organizations Oppose Washington State Flower Shop’s Misuse of Religion to Discriminate Against LGBTQ Customers

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined by a dozen religious freedom advocacy organizations, today urged the Washington Supreme Court in the case State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers to affirm that a flower shop can’t misuse religious freedom to deny service to LGBTQ couples like Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed.

“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. 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 filed today, Americans United and allies urged the court to affirm that the flower shop cannot cite religious beliefs as justification for discriminating against same-sex couples. The court already had 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 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.

The brief was authored by AU Legal Director Richard B. Katskee, Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser, Litigation Counsel Carmen N. Green and Legal Fellow Claire L. Hillan, and by Diana Breaux from the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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