It was a devastating day for Barronelle Stutzman. The florist from Washington State, who's become a symbol of the struggle for religious liberty in America, learned last week that the U.S. Supreme Court will not hear her case, in which she declined to design flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding in accordance with her Christian beliefs.
It was a case that has become all too familiar since the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. Where are the rights of believing Christians who work in the public square as they are increasingly faced with demands that go against their consciences? So far, the high court has sent very conflicting messages with regards to this fundamental question of religious freedom. In its Obergefell v. Hodges opinion that foisted same-sex marriage on all 50 states, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that "Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here." In a narrowly-worded victory for wedding cake baker Jack Phillips in 2018, the high court gave some amount of meaning to these words.
But with this latest failure to take up what should be a clear-cut case, the Supreme Court is leaving believers out in the cold when it comes to protecting their constitutional right to hold religious views and live out those views in the public square. This latest action is also leaving conservatives wondering how a court with three constitutionalist picks from President Trump and a 6-3 overall conservative majority could drop the ball so badly when it comes to defending the most fundamental and deeply held freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.
"It's a grievous injustice," said Kristen Waggoner, general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, on "Washington Watch." "It's deeply disappointing. And it's honestly hard to wrap your mind around how and why the U.S. Supreme Court didn't give her justice in some way. There were options."
Waggoner, who has represented Stutzman from the very beginning of her legal fight, went on to detail how despite this latest loss, the fight for religious freedom for Stutzman and others like her is far from over.
"It's important to remember that this case is focused on Washington State, and a denial to hear a case by the Supreme Court does not make new law," she noted. "What it means is that Barronelle is denied justice in Washington, but we have been able to prevail in similar cases in other jurisdictions. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled the opposite of the way that the Washington Supreme Court has done, and they've protected freedom. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has protected freedom, and we expect that a decision will come out of the 10th Circuit in Colorado on a similar issue shortly. So there will be a circuit split, and the [U.S. Supreme] Court will need to address that split as we're seeing the more leftist states essentially make the justice system an arm of cancel culture."
Waggoner also underscored the crucial importance of what hangs in the balance. "What we know is that the principle that's at stake here protects all Americans," she said. "It doesn't matter whether you're on the left or the right, Democrat or Republican -- the right to be able to express ourselves, to have freedom of speech, the right to be able to live consistent with our convictions is one that all humans should enjoy. And it's not one that the government gives us. It's something that God gives us and it's constitutionally guaranteed."
So how long can the Supreme Court continue to avoid this fundamental issue? Not for long. "I can guarantee you that this question will continue to come before the U.S. Supreme Court," Waggoner concluded. "You can't have a pluralistic free republic -- a durable nation -- if you don't have the fundamental freedom to speak or not speak and the right to practice your faith."