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What just happened with the Arlene’s Flowers court case?

Jun 25, 2018

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court in Arlene’s Flowers Inc. v. Washington and remanded the case to be re-heard by the lower court. Arlene’s Flowers centers on a 73-year-old Southern Baptist, Barronelle Stutzman. Stutzman is a florist who declined to prepare floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding because of her Christian faith.

Given the similarities between Barronelle’s case and the recently decided Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the U.S. Supreme Court specifically asked the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider Arlene’s Flowers. Earlier this month in Masterpiece, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, 7-2, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission displayed clear animus toward religion when it ordered baker Jack Phillips to prepare a cake for a same-sex wedding despite his religious objections.

Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is an encouraging one, as the Washington Supreme Court is now required to closely consider evidence of religious animus presented by Stutzman’s attorneys. With Masterpiece Cakeshop as guiding precedent, the Washington Supreme Court now must determine whether the state of Washington exhibited the same sort of hostile behavior toward Barronelle’s religion as the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did toward Jack.   

The Washington Supreme Court initially heard arguments in the Arlene’s Flowers case in February 2017. The state court ruled against Barronelle Stutzman in a stunning 9-0 decision. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to vacate that ruling means the Washington Supreme Court must re-evaluate its original analysis, meaning this case is far from settled.

Much like the decision made by Jack Phillips, Barronelle’s decision to decline floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding was based on her sincerely held religious beliefs as a Southern Baptist. Robert Ingersoll, who asked Barronelle to prepare the arrangements for his wedding, was a longtime friend and customer whom Barronelle had served on many other occasions. However, when Robert asked about arrangements for his particular event, Barronelle calmly told her friend that her faith in Jesus did not allow her to celebrate that kind of ceremony. She also provided Robert with the names of several other florists who would prepare the arrangements to Robert’s liking.

The State of Washington raised the case without a complaint from Robert and initially ruled against Barronelle. Further, the state compared Barronelle’s sensitive handling of the situation to that of a racist convenience store owner (see this supplemental brief filed by her attorneys, PDF). This absurd characterization is indicative of religious animus which the Washington Supreme Court should condemn in its future decision. In re-hearing the case, Washington should affirm Barronelle’s constitutional right to free speech and religious liberty.

The next step is for the Washington Supreme Court to set dates for the submission of briefs and re-argument of the case. Depending on the outcome, there may be another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. At that time, the justices would again consider whether or not to hear the case.

As the case continues to progress in the coming months we hope you will join us in praying for strength and wisdom for Barronelle, her attorneys, and all involved with this case.

For more information and the latest developments in the Arlene’s Flowers case, visit the Alliance Defending Freedom.