Written by Don Byrd
After the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Masterpiece Cakeshop case last year, it sent another controversial case – Arlene’s Flowers, Inc.. v. Washington – back to the Washington Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of the ruling. Masterpiece Cakeshop – in case you don’t have your church-state case scorecard in front of you – was the dispute over a bakery owner’s refusal on religious grounds to provide a custom cake for a wedding celebration for a same-sex couple. The Court ruled in favor of the baker, but did so without deciding the underlying issue of whether a business owner is entitled under the First Amendment to a religious accommodation from laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Instead, the Court looked at the record and determined that the Colorado agency tasked with adjudicating the request had acted with improper religious hostility and bias.
So, the question sent back to the Washington Supreme Court in Arlene’s Flowers is whether the record demonstrated similar improper statements by officials in rejecting a florist’s request for accommodation. In this case, a same-sex couple sought to purchase flower services for their wedding ceremony but were rejected by the florist, who was otherwise willing to serve them, and had done so in the past. The court previously ruled against the business owner, and cited the broad societal purpose served by nondiscrimination laws: “eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace.”
After analysis in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, the court found no similar evidence of religious animus and reaffirmed its previous ruling in favor of the state and against the florist. Here is an excerpt:
Even on remand, appellants still do not claim that our court or the Benton County Superior Court failed to adjudicate “with the religious neutrality that the Constitution requires.” Masterpiece Cakeshop. Presumably, appellants do not make such a claim because the record would not support it. Indeed, the record reveals that the courts remained neutral “in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided.” In its decision, the Benton County Superior Court acknowledged that “Stutzman has a sincerely held religious belief that is “entirely consistent” with her church’s “doctrinal statement,” and the superior court refused to “inquire further in the matter.” In fact, the superior court went out of its way to note that it
“intend[ed] no disrespect and d[id] not mean to imply either that Stutzman possesses any racial animus, or that she has conducted herself in any way inconsistently with Resolutions of the [Southern Baptist Church]’s direction to condemn ‘any form of gay-bashing, disrespectful attitudes, hateful rhetoric, or hate-incited actions’ toward gay men or women.”
Our court also recognized Stutzman’s “sincerely held religious beliefs,” and “analyze[d] each of [her] constitutional defenses carefully.” After carefully reviewing the record, including transcripts of hearings and written orders, and after carefully reviewing our prior opinion, we are confident that the courts resolved this dispute “with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
The Court, further, rejected appellants attempt to stretch [Masterpiece Cakeshop’s] holding beyond recognition and to relitigate issues resolved in our first opinion and outside the scope of Masterpiece Cakeshop.”