WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sent the case involving a Christian florist who declined to participate in a same-sex wedding back to the lower courts in the state of Washington to reconsider in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, keeping hope alive for a Christian grandmother who might face a million dollars in legal fees.
On June 4, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, the Evangelical Christian wedding baker in Colorado who declined to custom-design a wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding.
The Court’s ruling declined to answer the big free speech questions in the case, holding instead that because commissioners on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’ mainstream Christian beliefs “despicable” during his official hearing, that the Colorado state government was manifesting hostility toward a specific religion in violation of the Free Exercise Clause in the Constitution’s First Amendment.
The justices did not rule on broader First Amendment claims of free speech or the free exercise of religion, leaving those questions for another day. But the Court’s 7-2 decision – while a narrow opinion – was still a major victory for the faith-based community, because the political left’s argument was that no First Amendment religious-liberty rights follow a person in the marketplace when he or she opens a business to the public.
The Court rejected that argument, holding that First Amendment rights do apply, and the only questions are how broad or narrow of circumstances violate the religious person’s rights, and whether those rights include only the free exercise of religion, or free speech as well.
In Arlene’s Flowers, an Evangelical Christian grandmother named Baronelle Stutzman likewise declined to participate in a same-sex wedding by doing the floral arrangements for the ceremony. Like Phillips, she had previously served gay customers – including the man who filed this complaint against her – but declined to be part of his same-sex wedding because of her sincerely held religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. (Stutzman is a Southern Baptist.)
The Washington courts ruled against Stutzman. Under state law in Washington, she could also be liable for the third-party attorneys’ fees to the private individuals in the case. Stutzman’s lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) claim that those fees could be $1 million.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted Stutzman’s petition for review, vacated the Washington court’s decision, and remanded her case back to the state court, instructing the court to determine if the state’s actions showed the same type of hostility to religion that was found in Masterpiece.
After the Washington Supreme Court receives new legal briefs, hears new arguments and issues a new opinion in this case, the losing side can again petition the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case is Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, No. 17-108 at the Supreme Court of the United States.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.