Yesterday the Washington Supreme Court issued a decision in State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, SCT No. 91615-2.
Plaintiffs are a gay couple seeking to buy a floral arrangement from Arlene’s Flowers for their wedding. Arlene’s Flowers denied their request based upon their alleged strongly held religious beliefs, and based upon their assertion that floral arrangements are a form of expression which cannot be compelled without violating their right of free speech. Arlene’s Flowers argued that the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), which recognizes sexual orientation as a protected category, is unconstitutional as applied to those with strongly held religious beliefs or those engaged is certain types of expressive activities. Arlene’s Flowers also argued that the right under the WLAD to be free from religious discrimination must be balanced against the WLAD right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and because the former are constitutionally recognized the right to free from religious discrimination controls.
The Supreme Court unanimously rejected Arlene’s Flowers’ arguments. It held that the WLAD does not require that the balancing of rights because the WLAD does not protect the rights of proprietors of public accommodations, only the rights of patrons. The Court further held that while the state and federal constitutions protect expressive conduct, floral arrangements didn’t qualify because the conduct at issue was not “inherently expressive.” The right to free exercise of religion was not violated because the WLAD is a neutral law of general application to which a rational basis standard of review applies. Because the WLAD is rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in ensuring equal access to public accommodations, it does not violate the free exercise clause of the state and federal constitutions. Read the opinion here. WELA filed an Amicus Brief on September 23, 2016. WELA’s Amicus Brief Here.