Late update: Immediately after this story went to press in the July issue of Christian News Northwest, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case of Richland, Wash., florist Barronelle Stutzman back to the Washington Supreme Court, after vacating that court’s decision and instructing it to reconsider her lawsuit in light of the recent decision regarding Colorado bakery owner Jack Phillips of Colorado.
WASHINGTON — A surprise 7-2 opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court last month came down on the side of Christian bakery owner Jack Phillips of Colorado, who had declined to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
But will that ruling have a bearing on possible future High Court decisions on business owners’ religious freedoms, including former Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein of Sandy, and Richland Wash., floral shop owner Barronelle Stutzman?
That appears very open to debate, judging from reactions to the ruling.
Much of the media, some liberal groups and even some Christian commentators characterized it as a narrow ruling focused only on what the justices saw as Colorado authorities’ hostility toward Phil-lips’ religious beliefs, and said the court really didn’t address the larger question of the religious rights of business owners.
“The Court did NOT rule that the Constitution gives a right to discriminate.” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted. “As a nation, we’ve already rejected the idea that businesses open to the public have a license to discriminate against people because of who they are.”
“Unfortunately, the Court did not address the full panoply of First Amendment liberties at stake, leaving open the question of whether free speech rights of professionals who disagree with a state’s view on same-sex marriage will be protected in the future,” stated a release from Life Legal Foundation, a Christian agency.
But others said it would be a huge mistake to downplay how momentous last month’s opinion was for religious liberties.
“The fact that it is a 7-to-2 decision is frosting on the cake with a cherry on top,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Church’s Southern Evangelical Seminary. “This 7-to-2 ruling from the court will have lasting impact … This decision proclaims loudly that freedom still reigns in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I thank God for this decision.”
A similar opinion was expressed by Portland-area commentator Gary Randall on his Faith & Freedom blog:
“Homosexual activists and a complicit press are repeatedly reporting that this was a very narrow ruling and has no bearing on future Court decisions,” Randall wrote. “That’s a lie. This case will have a significant bearing on future cases, particularly on those that are already in motion.”
Randall contended that the kind of hostility shown by Colorado authorities toward Phillips’ views also was evident in the two prominent Northwest cases. In the Oregon case, then-state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian showed a “hatred” for the Kleins’ personal beliefs, Randall wrote. Similarly, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson displayed the same kind of government hostitlity toward Stutzman, he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court remains the only avenue of appeal now for the Kleins, as the Oregon Supreme Court on June 21 declined to consider their case.