Does the freedom of speech, expression and religion given to American citizens outweigh the right to have equal protection under the law as a consumer? Or should the 14th Amendment take precedence over 1st Amendment beliefs, no matter how sincerely held? The Unites States Supreme Court has had two chances to answer these questions in recent months — the Masterpiece Bakery v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Arlene’s Flowers Inc. v. Washington cases. However, the court either opted to rule more narrowly, or did not rule at all, and declined to answer the broader questions that came with each case.
The defendant in the Arlene’s Flowers case, Barronelle Stutzman, lost the suit when the state Supreme Court ruled Stutzman discriminated against a gay man when she refused to arrange flowers for his wedding because of her religious beliefs. Stutzman appealed to the Supreme Court, but the high court punted the case back to the state earlier this summer.
Columnist Rich Elfers wrote a column (“Expect WA court to reverse Arlene’s Flowers decision,” printed July 4 in the Courier-Herald) about the case.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote a letter to the Courier-Herald on July 20, challenging some of Elfers’ facts and characterizations in his column.
Ferguson’s letter, as well as a response column by Elfers, are printed below. While unusual in its presentation, it is my opinion that the nuances of the Arlene’s Flowers case are best presented in simultaneous debating pieces, to give readers the best chance to form their own opinion on the matters at hand.
Both Ferguson and Elfers have included links in their pieces (as have I in this introduction), allowing readers to view source documents and other materials on their own. I highly encourage you to do so by going online to www.maplevalleyreporter.com, or simply type the links into your web browser.
I also urge you to not only consider the information being presented, but also where that information came from. Stutzman’s legal team, the Alliance Defending Freedom, is a right-wing non-profit that the Southern Poverty Law Center designates a hate group for their public opinions and legal work against the LGBTQ community, though the group does not commit hate crimes. While it’s impossible to be completely impartial, especially regarding cases like Arlene’s Flowers, extreme bias should be met with extreme scrutiny when considering information from such sources.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time the 1st and 14th Amendments will battle in court. The Arlene’s Flowers case may be only a small facet of the authority behind America’s two most powerful amendments, but the decisions made in this case, and others like it, will shape our country for generations to come.
We can affect the outcome with our voices and our votes. But first, we must be well-informed — that’s our duty as Americans.
Read on, citizen, and learn.