A florist, a t-shirt designer and a cake maker say there’s more at stake than their personal Christian beliefs in lawsuits filed against them for alleged sexual orientation discrimination.
The florist says she could lose her livelihood, and the t-shirt designer says the suits could also affect the religious freedom of non-Christians.
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in the coming months whether to take up the case of the cake maker—who was sued after refusing to make cakes for same-sex weddings—in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm'n, 85 U.S.L.W. 3048, U.S., No. 16-111, petition filed 7/22/16.
The florist was sued after similarly refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, and the t-shirt designer after turning away an order for shirts promoting a gay and lesbian pride festival.
The cases are part of a wave of lawsuits gaining more attention after the Supreme Court’s decision that the right to marry extends to same-sex couples, in Obergefell v. Hodges, 83 U.S.L.W. 4592 (U.S. June 26, 2015).
The business owners say they have a constitutional right to turn away business that conflicts with their religious convictions, but the plaintiffs argue such actions violate anti-discrimination statutes. At the trial court level, rulings have come down on both sides of the issue. All three cases are currently being appealed.
The business owners spoke at an Oct. 25 event hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal organization, titled “Conscience and Creative Professionals.”
Panelist Barronelle Stutzman owns Arlene’s Flowers and refused, on religious grounds, to provide a floral arrangement for the same-sex wedding of Robert Ingersoll, a longtime customer.
Stutzman said she previously made arrangements for “Rob” for about 10 years, and “loved” doing so.
But when Ingersoll requested an arrangement for his wedding, she said, “I’m sorry Rob, I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”
That decision could cost Stutzman her livelihood, she said.
A social media post about the refusal went viral, leading to bomb threats and a “constant threat of harm” that still remains, Stutzman said.
Ingersoll and the state of Washington sued Stutzman, arguing that she violated its anti-discrimination law.
A trial court agreed last year.
Religious “beliefs do not give any of us a right to ignore the law or to harm others because of who they are,” the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Ingersoll, said after the decision.
Stutzman appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court will hear oral argument Nov. 15.
The florist said she believes in the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom, and that if “we do not stand up and fight, soon we’ll have nothing to stand up for.”
Stutzman tearfully said that she misses Ingersoll, and would “serve him for another 10 years” if she could, despite the lawsuit.
Panelist Blaine Adamson owns Hands On Originals, a Christian t-shirt design business in Kentucky, and refused to print shirts promoting a gay and lesbian pride festival.
A county human rights commission determined that Adamson violated a local anti-discrimination ordinance, but a trial court ruled in Adamson’s favor. The commission is appealing at the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
Adamson said that t-shirt messages aren’t a trivial matter.
He gave Nike’s “swoosh” symbol as an example, saying it isn’t a mere checkmark.
There is power behind images, and companies spend billions of dollars using t-shirts to promote messages, he said.
Further, religious freedom disputes like his aren’t just a “Christian” concern, Adamson said.
If he is forced to promote a message with which he disagrees, then non-Christians could also be forced to go against their conscience, he said.
Last year, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that Jack Phillips, a cake maker and a Christian, couldn’t refuse to make cakes for same-sex weddings, in Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc., 370 P.3d 272 (Colo. App. 2015).
ADF represents Philips and has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take his case, in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm'n, 85 U.S.L.W. 3048, U.S., No. 16-111, petition filed 7/22/16.
The lower court found that requiring Phillips to make such cakes didn’t violate his right to free speech because such conduct, “even if compelled by the government, is not sufficiently expressive to warrant First Amendment protections,” the court said.
But ADF communications director and legal counsel Kerri Kupec said Phillips’s cakes are expressive art.
There’s “no question” that he is a “cake artist,” she said.
His work was even featured on commercials for the “Cake Boss” television show about unique custom cakes, Kupec said.
ADF’s petition for review argues that show demonstrates the “artistic nature of Phillips’ profession.”
Keep up with the most significant cases and key legislative, regulatory, and Supreme Court developments with a free trial to United States Law Week.
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