Attorneys for a Washington florist who refused to make a flower arrangement a same-sex wedding filed a supplemental brief in the wake of Monday’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision which left the question of balance between free exercise of religion and non-discrimination statutes unanswered.
Yesterday, attorneys for Baronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, asked the Supreme Court to send her case back to the state court for reconsideration in light of Monday’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. The case involves a floral artist who had previously created birthday and anniversary floral arrangements for Robert Ingersoll and his same-sex partner but refused on religious grounds to provide a flower arrangement “because of her relationship with Jesus Christ” and referred him to three other florists who would provide the service. In the brief, Stuzman’s attorneys claimed that Ingersoll never filed a complaint, but the state of Washington filed a lawsuit against Stutzman and the case went forward to trial. (Update: Ingersoll and Freed assert that they sued separately in their supplemental brief published after this article was first posted.)
In yesterday’s supplemental brief, Stutzman’s attorneys argue that the state trial court did not “treated Barronelle with neither tolerance nor respect” when the court compared her to a “racist ‘owner of a 7-Eleven store’ who had ‘a policy’ of refusing ‘to serve any black’ customers.” Stutzman’s attorneys also claim that the Washington courts treated her unequally when it had dismissed a case brought against the owner of a Seattle coffee shop who had “profanely berated and discriminated against Christian customers.” (The Bedlam Coffee shop owner claims that he kicked out members of an anti-abortion group who had been passing out fliers and putting stickers on newspaper boxes outside his establishment.)
The Masterpiece Cakeshop case decision hinged on a Colorado civil rights tribunal’s statements that the majority on the Supreme Court believed demonstrated bias against the owner, Jack Phillip’s, religious beliefs. The Supreme Court also found that the Colorado commission had treated Phillips unequally when it had dismissed cases brought by somebody who tried to get other bakeries to produce cakes with anti-gay slogans.
In their response to the supplemental brief, attorneys for the State of Washington argue that Stutzman’s lawyers misuse the “7-Eleven store” owner case claiming that the court was citing a prior opinion involving discriminatory behavior. They also claim that the state had not attempted to drive Stutzman out of business, but had offered her a compromise of resolving at no cost to her “if she would simply agree to comply with Washington law” by making floral arrangements for same-sex marriage ceremonies.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider whether to hear the Arlene’s Flowers case in its conference set for today, and while the state of Washington believes that it has offered a reasonable compromise of no fine if she agrees to provide flower arrangements for all weddings, Stuzman would not accept this compromise since it would violate her sincerely held religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court may have added the cake baker, Jack Phillips, a narrow victory on Monday, but the decision primarily focuses on whether he was given a fair hearing by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and fails to address the question of whether he has a free exercise right to refuse to provide services for same-sex couples. That this issue remains unsettled is underscored by the supplemental briefs filed yesterday in the Washington florists’ case. Whether the Supreme Court is willing to tackle the tougher issues of how to balance free exercise of religion with anti-discrimination statutes remains to be seen.
Update: On Monday, June 11, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court did not announce whether the Court will decide to hear the Arlene’s Flowers case or send it back to the lower court for re-review. The Court may still decide to act on the case but the likelihood of doing so at this stage is increasingly remote.
After the florist’s attorney and the state of Washington filed their supplemental brief, the couple that sought the services of the florist also filed a supplemental brief stating that the florist’s implication that they did not intend to sue and that it was carried forward by the state acting alone was incorrect since they filed a lawsuit at the same time the state did. See “Supplemental Brief of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed” filed June 7, 2018.