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Barronelle Stutzman Should Win in Light of Masterpiece

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Today, the United States Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Arlene’s Flower v. Washington. The Court then vacated the judgment of the lower court and remanded the case back to the Supreme Court of Washington for further consideration in light of Jack Phillips’ recent win in Masterpiece Cakeshop. Simply put, the state supreme court will have to reconsider its assessment of the case.

You will recall, this is the case of Barronelle Stutzman, a florist who served a homosexual customer and friend for almost 10 years before she declined to create custom floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding. Barronelle explained she couldn’t participate in the ceremony “because of her relationship with Jesus Christ,” but referred his friend to another florist she knew would do a good job.

Barronelle was then met with a hostility from the state, similar to the actions decried by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.  The state sued not just the business, they went after Barronelle personally. Unlike in Jack’s case, the same-sex customers had filed no complaint against Barronelle.  Still, she was harassed as a racist.  The trial court compared her to another case where the owner refused to serve blacks.

The state also has a markedly higher tolerance for businesses that discriminate against Christians.

The state court must determine whether there are “elements of clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs …” as it found in Masterpiece. The evidence here suggests that there are.  As Colorado did with Jack, Washington here treats Barronelle’s religious objections as “merely rhetorical” and not worthy of the same level of protection as other views of which the state approves.

Barronelle, as Jack, suffered discrimination because of her religious beliefs, so we hope the Supreme Court of Washington will rule for her, as it takes into account Masterpiece Cakeshop as binding precedent. Either way, the case is likely to come back before the U.S. Supreme Court, as the losing party is likely to appeal.

Remember too that the U.S. Supreme Court did not address the Freedom of Speech claim that is, perhaps, most compelling in these cases. That argument, too, is likely to come before the U.S. Supreme Court for consideration.