Supreme Court Declines to Hear Key Religious Liberty Case Next Term

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on Friday announced it will not take a key religious liberty case next term, centered around a Christian artist who has come under fire for declining to offer her talents to events that violate her faith, such as gay marriage ceremonies.

The case centers around Barronelle Stutzman (pictured), a Christian artist who designs floral art for events. The case arose after she referred Robert Ingersoll, a gay client of hers for nearly a decade, to a handful of other florists after he asked her to create floral art for his same-sex wedding ceremony.

Only three justices —  Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch —  voted to grant review of the case.

“When Robert asked Barronelle to create the floral designs for his marriage to Curt, she took Robert aside and, as she held his hands, shared how much she cared for him; then she explained her religious conflict. The two continued to talk, and Barronelle referred Robert to three nearby florists,” according to the introduction of the case detailed in the petition for a writ of certiorari (the official term for petitions for SCOTUS review, or “cert petition” for short).

A state trial court subsequently declared her guilty of sexual orientation discrimination, despite the fact that she had been serving Ingersoll for years knowing his sexual orientation, even developing a friendship with him. The Attorney General then requested “summary judgment and a permanent injunction prohibiting ‘any disparate treatment in the offering or sale of goods, merchandise or services . . . to same-sex couples,’ including those Arlene’s Flowers provides ‘for weddings.'”

In 2018, the Supreme Court delivered a victory to people of faith in a 7-2 decision, ruling in favor of wedding cake baker Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission under similar circumstances. But that case was decided on narrow grounds, immediately after which SCOTUS sent Arlene’s Flowers back to the Washington state court system for reconsideration. The current petition came after a couple years of additional proceedings.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled against her, determining she “discriminated against Robert because of his sexual orientation,” doubling down and “reissuing most of its prior decision word for word and cabining Masterpiece to prohibit religious hostility only by adjudicators—not executive-branch officials like the State’s Attorney General,” as detailed by the cert petition:

After the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Barronelle, this Court granted her petition and vacated and remanded in light of Masterpiece. But on remand, the Washington Supreme Court construed Masterpiece’s condemnation of religious hostility as applicable only to “adjudicatory bodies,” ignored all evidence of the Attorney General’s hostility toward Barronelle’s faith, and issued a decision that restated most of its first opinion verbatim. The court did not believe it acted intolerantly, even though it refused to recognize the obvious distinction between Barronelle’s undisputed willingness to serve gay customers and her limited conflict with celebrating a sacred event that violates her faith. The court branded Barronelle a “discriminator” and ordered her to attend, facilitate, and create custom floral art celebrating all marriages or none. And it imposed personal liability on her. Barronelle now stands to lose nearly everything she owns.

One of the central questions is whether the state is violating her First Amendment rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion by forcing her to offer her services to an event that fundamentally violates her religious beliefs.

The case is Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, No. 19-333 in the Supreme Court of Washington.

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