Written by Don Byrd

Earlier this year, an Arizona appeals court affirmed a trial court’s decision in ruling against the owners of a business that designs wedding invitations and other handmade artworks in a dispute over whether a Phoenix ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates their religious freedom rights under Arizona law. The proprietors of Brush & Nib claim that providing custom wedding invitations for same-sex couples would conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

As the Arizona Capitol Times reports, the state Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case could have an impact beyond this business and this Phoenix ordinance.

The move Tuesday by the Arizona Supreme Court most immediately affects the validity of a Phoenix ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It is being challenged by two women who do not want to prepare custom wedding invitations and other products for same-sex nuptials.

But what the justices rule ultimately will govern the extent that all communities — and the state itself — can force those who say they are open for business to all to pick and choose their customers. And it most definitely would affect similar ordinances in Tucson, Tempe and Flagstaff.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently considered a similar dispute in Masterpiece Cakeshop, which involved a wedding cake maker instead of a wedding invitation designer. That decision, issued earlier this year, favored the business owner, but may not have provided much guidance to this and similar cases. It centered on statements of local government officials in that case that seemed to show a bias against religion, and thus amounted to improper discrimination, the majority held. The Masterpiece Cakeshop Court declined to address the substantive issue surrounding whether religious freedom rights prohibit local government from enforcing anti-discrimination public accommodation laws against business owners with a religious objection.

Unlike Masterpiece, which was a First Amendment case, this challenge presents questions of Arizona’s religious freedom law (including the state’s RFRA). Still, being one of the first of these religious objection cases post-Masterpiece, the way the Arizona Supreme Court rules in this matter is worth watching. Stay tuned.

For more background on this case, you can read the trial court’s opinion here. The appeals court opinion is here.

For more on Masterpiece Cakeshop, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s resource page dedicated to the case.