Thursday, June 07, 2018

Public Accommodation Law Upheld Against Religious Claims In First Post-Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision

In the first case to present issues similar to those in the Supreme Court's Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, an Arizona appellate court has largely vindicated the rights of a same sex couple.  In Brush & Nib Studio, LC v. City of Phoenix, (AZ App, June 7, 2018), owners of an art studio that designs wedding products, citing their Christian religious beliefs, refused to create customer-specific merchandise for same-sex weddings. They sued to obtain an injunction against application of Phoenix's public accommodation anti-discrimination law to them.  Rejecting their free speech argument, the court said in part:
the conduct at issue is not the creation of words or images but the conduct of selling or refusing to sell merchandise—either pre-fabricated or designed to order—equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. This conduct, even though it may incidentally impact speech, is not speech. Further, allowing a vendor who provides goods and services for marriages and weddings to refuse similar services for gay persons would result in “a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws that ensure equal access to goods, services, and public accommodations.” Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., slip op. at 10.
The court goes on to note:
Although Appellants are prohibited from posting discriminatory statements about their intent to refuse services for same-sex weddings, they may post a statement endorsing their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and may post a disclaimer explaining that, notwithstanding that belief, Section 18-4(B) requires them to provide goods and services to everyone regardless of sexual orientation. Or they may post a disclaimer that the act of selling their goods and services to same-sex couples does not constitute an endorsement of their customers’ exercise of their constitutional right to marry or any other activities.
The court did, however, strike as unconstitutionally vague a portion of the public accommodation law that prohibited advertisements or notices that states or implies that a person, because of sexual orientation would be "unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, undesirable or not solicited."

The court went on to reject the studio owners' free exercise claims:
Appellants have failed to prove that Section 18-4(B) substantially burdens their religious beliefs.... Appellants are not penalized for expressing their belief that their religion only recognizes the marriage of opposite-sex couples. Nor are Appellants penalized for refusing to create wedding-related merchandise as long as they equally refuse similar services to opposite-sex couples. Section 18-4(B) merely requires that, by operating a place of public accommodation, Appellants provide equal goods and services to customers regardless of sexual orientation. Appellants are free to discontinue selling custom wedding-related merchandise and maintain the operation of Brush & Nib for its other business operations. What Appellants cannot do is use their religion as a shield to discriminate against potential customers.
Slate reports on the decision.

UPDATE: AP reports that that attorneys for Brush & Nib plan an appeal.