The Supreme Court today punted another case back down to the state level rather than further explore whether wedding service providers could legally be ordered to serve same-sex couples.
The Court ruled on June 4 that the state of Colorado erred when it punished a baker for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The decision was 7-2, but it was ruled on very narrow grounds that didn't really address some larger free speech questions raised by the case. Instead, the majority ruled that the state's Civil Rights Commission showed open hostility toward the issues of religious freedom presented in the case and did not behave as a neutral arbiter of antidiscrimination and public accommodation laws, which is its role. The court invalidated the commission's ruling but deliberately did not rule one way or the other as to whether the creation of a wedding cake was a form of speech or expression.
As a result, many people had their eyes on another, very similar case, Arlene's Flowers v. Washington, which had been petitioned to the Supreme Court for consideration (the Reason Foundation submitted an amicus brief supporting the florist and encouraging the Supreme Court to take the case up). The arguments in the case are similar to the arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but the case revolved around floral arrangements, not cake. Washington state ruled that Arlene's Flowers could not decline to provide its arrangements for same-sex weddings under the state's public accommodation laws.
Today, the Supreme Court announced it would not take up the Arlene's Flowers case, instead sending it back to the state court to reconsider in the wake of their Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling.
What that means is, essentially, the Supreme Court is warning these state officials that they need to be neutrally applying their antidiscrimination laws, and when somebody presents religious objections to what they see as compelled speech, it can't be treated differently than other types of objections to compelled speech.
This is not a win or a loss for any side, but states should see it as a warning that they really do need to take seriously religious objections to these laws. Arlene's Flowers owner Baronnelle Stutzman believes that she was treated with the same sort of antireligious animosity the court found in the Colorado case. Washington officials are going to have to show otherwise. You can read the state Supreme Court ruling here at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website (the ACLU is supporting the state, not the florist).
The Arlene's Flowers case may eventually work its way back up to the Supreme Court, where SCOTUS may choose to tackle the issue of whether the providing of wedding goods and services count as expressive speech that cannot be mandated without violating the First Amendment. But that particular dilemma has been kicked quite a ways down the road for now.
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