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Here’s why the Arlene’s Flowers case is back in the state Supreme Court’s hands

The Arlene’s Flowers case is back before the state Supreme Court, nearly two years after justices unanimously ruled that the Richland flower shop’s owner broke the law when she refused to design arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

The state’s high court is taking another look at the case in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a separate but similar matter involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Attorneys for Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, filed their opening brief this week.

More briefs — on both sides — will be filed over the next couple of months.

The state Supreme Court could hear oral arguments during its winter term, which runs from January to March, but more likely will hear them in the spring term, which runs from April to June, said Lorrie Thompson, a state court spokeswoman.

U.S. Supreme Court justices returned the case to the state court “for further consideration” in light of the federal ruling in favor of the Colorado baker. In that June ruling, justices didn’t decide the case’s larger issue — which also is at the heart of the Arlene’s Flowers case — of whether a business can use religious objections to refuse services to LGBTQ people.

But they did find that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was hostile to the baker’s religion in that instance.

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Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, stands in her store on Lee Boulevard in Richland. Tri-City Herald file

Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom, who’s representing Stutzman, said Washington’s government has been openly hostile to her client’s religious beliefs and the Colorado decision shows there’s no place for that in society.

“We are asking the Washington Supreme Court to affirm that in this case,” she said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is representing the couple Stutzman refused.

In a statement, legal director Emily Chiang said that “discrimination hurts. No one should be rejected or turned away from a business open to the public simply because of who they are. We have every reason to believe the Washington State Supreme Court will reaffirm the rights of our clients — Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll — to be full and equal members of our society.”

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office said that the Colorado opinion was a “narrow ruling that turned on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s ‘clear and impermissible hostility’ toward the religious beliefs of the business owner. That was clearly not the case in Washington state.”

The case dates to 2013, when Ingersoll asked Stutzman to create flower arrangements for his upcoming wedding to Freed.

Ingersoll was a longtime customer of the flower shop on Lee Boulevard.

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Robert Ingersoll, left, and Curt Freed. Courtesy American Civil Liberties Union of Washington

Stutzman refused, citing her religious beliefs about marriage.

Ingersoll and Freed filed a lawsuit, and so did Ferguson.

They argued that Stutzman violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act.

A Benton County Superior Court judge agreed, ruling in 2015 that Stutzman broke the law.

Stutzman appealed to the state Supreme Court, which made its ruling last year.

She then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately sent the case back to the state.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, sschilling@tricityherald.com
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