Almost exactly a year after it ruled in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, the U.S. Supreme Court has a chance to clarify its stance on creative professionals who cannot in good conscience because of their religious convictions participate in same-sex weddings. The Supreme Court of Washington state ruled against Richland, Wash., florist Barronelle Stutzman for a second time last week, and her lawyers said they plan to appeal.
Stutzman, who was prosecuted in her professional and personal capacity after declining to design flowers for the same-sex wedding of a longtime customer in 2013, said she was “not surprised” but was “deeply disappointed” in the ruling.
“It pains me to see my own state continue to come after my flower shop, my home, and every penny I own,” she said in a statement.
When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Phillips’ case last year, the justices chose to narrowly focus on the hostility the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed toward him throughout the adjudication of a discrimination claim against the Christian baker. The lack of neutrality was enough to toss out the commission’s decision, so the Supreme Court avoided ruling on the wider national conflict between business owners’ religious beliefs and LGBT activists. Later, the high court ordered the Washington state Supreme Court to reexamine Stutzman’s case in light of its decision about Phillips.
Though Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was a clear win for Phillips (who is facing yet another legal challenge), the narrow ruling left wiggle room for government entities to force Christians to participate in same-sex weddings as long as they don’t use hostile rhetoric while doing it.
“After this review, we are confident that the two courts gave full and fair consideration to this dispute and avoided animus toward religion,” the Washington Supreme Court judges wrote. “We therefore find no reason to change our original decision in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop.”
Stutzman’s attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom disagree and plan to take her case back to the U.S. Supreme Court. ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch said that “the hostility throughout the case was rampant,” citing the Washington attorney general’s nearly unprecedented decision to go after the Christian florist’s personal assets, essentially guaranteeing bankruptcy. He also pointed out that no one ever filed a complaint against Stutzman. The attorney general argued the case himself before the Washington Supreme Court, and Stutzman was treated more harshly than other businesses that did have complaints against them.
Bursch said ADF intends to give the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to rule on whether the government has the right to force Christian business owners to participate in same-sex weddings in the first place.
“This is an ideal case for the Supreme Court to resolve some of these issues involving creative professionals who are willing to serve everyone but are unable to express certain custom messages or attend certain events,” he said.
Stutzman’s case rests on the fact that designing flowers for the couple involves consultation, custom creative expression, and attending the wedding ceremony—all of which Stutzman says her religious beliefs about marriage will not allow her to do.
Bursch said if the U.S. Supreme Court accepts the case, it could be argued as early as April 2020.