The Supreme Court on Monday decided not to take the case of a Christian florist who refused to make flower arrangements for a customer’s same-sex wedding. While the florist’s lawyers urged the Supreme Court not to take the case, by doing so, this was actually a win for liberals — if they understand the Court’s message.
First, some background information: the florist, whose name is Barronelle Stutzman, was sued in 2013 by both the state of Washington and the homosexual couple for not agreeing to make the flower arrangements. Stutzman cited freedom of religion as the reason for her objection. In addition to being fined $1,000, she was told that since she makes flower arrangements for weddings, she must serve all potential customers. Washington’s Supreme Court upheld that ruling.
The United States Supreme Court, in its decision to send the case back to the Washington court, directed the state court to reconsider Stutzman’s case in light of the recent “Gay Wedding Cake” decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Colorado was hostile to the baker’s religious beliefs.
In both the florist’s case and the wedding cake case, the Supreme Court has dodged the question everyone has been asking: can a business decline service to a customer due to a religious objection to same-sex marriage? So, how is this a win for liberals?
By dodging the larger constitutional question, both sides still have hope that one day their argument will prevail. But by not ruling on the root of the issue at hand, the Court is sending the message that it is more important to prevent an attack on religious business owners.
This is what Justice Kennedy wrote regarding the Colorado case:
“The reason and motive for the baker’s refusal were based on his sincere religious beliefs and convictions. The Court’s precedents make clear that the baker, in his capacity as the owner of a business serving the public, might have his right to the free exercise of religion limited by generally applicable laws.”
Justice Kennedy continued, “Still, the delicate question of when the free exercise of his religion must yield to an otherwise valid exercise of state power needed to be determined in an adjudication in which religious hostility on the part of the State itself would not be a factor in the balance the State sought to reach.”
I suspect a future Court ruling will see the LGBT community’s position that equal protection must triumph over free exercise of religion in cases like these. But that day will only come after the assault on people of faith subsides — or at least is toned down.