The florist, the baker, and the policymakers

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https://world.wng.org/content/the_florist_the_baker_and_the_policymakers
The florist, the baker, and the policymakers

First Amendment | Supreme Court tells Washington state to revisit religious liberty case

by Bonnie Pritchett

Alliance Defending Freedom

Barronelle Stutzman | Alliance Defending Freedom

A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in the case of Christian florist Barronelle Stutzman linked her fate to that of Jack Phillips, the baker who stood by his convictions about marriage and won a narrowly focused high court victory earlier this month. The justices ordered the Washington state Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling against Stutzman in light of the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The state court should pay particular attention to the anti-religious hostility emphasized in the June 4 Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, said Kristen Waggoner, Stutzman’s attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, which also represented Phillips. The blatant religious animus by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission toward Phillips earned it the ire of and the reversal by a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices.

“The Washington attorney general’s efforts to punish [Stutzman] because he dislikes her beliefs about marriage are as impermissible as Colorado’s attempts to punish Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop,” Waggoner said during a press conference following Monday’s ruling.

Facebook/ACLUStutzman’s five-year legal battle began when she declined to create floral arrangements for a longtime customer’s same-sex wedding. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson took her to court even before the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the couple. The courts found her personally liable for discrimination, and Stutzman could lose all business and personal assets except her house.

In Masterpiece, the high court focused on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s displays of anti-religious bias against Phillips. Ferguson similarly disparaged Stutzman because of her faith, her attorney said.

“Its been relentless. It’s been vindictive. And it’s unprecedented in the state of Washington for an attorney general to do what he’s done here,” she said.

The cases the attorney general chose to pursue also indicate bias. Waggoner said Ferguson refused to cite a gay coffee shop owner under the same nondiscrimination law he used to prosecute Stutzman. In a video posted online, the owner of the coffee shop, in an expletive-laced rant, told a group of Christians to leave his business.

While Stutzman may have a similarly strong defense based on religious animus, some who applauded the Masterpiece decision criticized the justices for not thoroughly addressing the key question for bakers, florists, and others: Can the government compel creative professionals to create custom-designed products in violation of their religious convictions?

Waggoner said the Supreme Court left intact or affirmed all of Phillips’ free speech and religious exercise arguments, which the Washington state court must consider in Stutzman’s case.

“While the court didn’t decide Jack’s case on the merits of the free speech claims, it certainly gave guidelines as to how courts should be looking at those cases and certainly indicated, in some cases, speech is protected,” she said.

Even with guidelines from the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington’s Supreme Court might be hard pressed to significantly alter its February 2017 unanimous decision against Stutzman.

Responding to the high court’s decision, Attorney General Ferguson said the state court “now has the job of determining whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affects this case. I am confident they will come to the same conclusion they did in their previous, unanimous ruling upholding the civil rights of same-sex couples in our state.”

Supreme Court watchers think Monday’s decision only delayed the inevitable.

“The justices will almost certainly have to tackle the question presented by Stutzman’s case soon, but they apparently do not intend to do it next fall,” Amy Howe wrote for SCOTUSblog.

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