The Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state courts had not acted with religious animus when they held that a florist violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding.
In this latest decision, the high court upheld its 2017 opinion that found Barronelle Stutzman and her business, Arlene’s Flowers, had unlawfully discriminated against Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed by denying them service on religious grounds in 2013.
“We are thrilled that the Court has reaffirmed its ruling in our favor,” Freed and Ingersoll said in a statement. “Discrimination hurts, especially while planning what should be one of the happiest times of your life. We hope that this ruling will prevent what happened to us from happening to others.”
Previously, the Washington Supreme Court had upheld the Benton County Superior Court in ruling that Stutzman’s actions violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Under these laws, a business that chooses to provide a service to couples of the opposite sex must provide that service equally to same-sex couples, prosecutors had argued.
Stutzman filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case in 2017, but the country’s highest court kicked the case back to the Washington Supreme Court in June 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court, which had just ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, directed the state court to reexamine the Arlene’s Flowers case in light of that decision.
In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the justices had set aside Colorado’s ruling against the bakery owner on the grounds that state officials had shown animus toward his religious views in reaching their ruling.
But the Washington Supreme Court said Thursday that the state courts in its case did not treat Stutzman’s religious views with hostility and therefore upheld its decision that her refusal to serve Freed and Ingersoll was not protected by her First Amendment right to free speech.
“After careful review on remand, we are confident that the courts resolved this dispute with tolerance, and we therefore find no reason to change our original judgment in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop,” the state Supreme Court wrote in a 76-page opinion. “We again affirm the trial court’s rulings.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which represented Freed and Ingersoll, applauded the decision in a statement Thursday.
“We are pleased that the Washington State Supreme Court recognized that the Masterpiece decision does not give people a license to use religion to discriminate,” said Michele Storms, executive director of the ACLU of Washington. “Religion is a fundamental right, but businesses open to the public must be open to all.”