A flurry of religious liberty challenges headed toward the Supreme Court in its upcoming term could leave a lasting mark on American law for years to come.
The Supreme Court's decision to grant a high-profile case involving a Colorado baker's refusal to design and make a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage figures to be a blockbuster. The court has not yet scheduled oral arguments for Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which makes it increasingly likely that the case could be heard in December.
Meanwhile, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has asked the court to hear that case 'in tandem' with a similar dispute arriving from Washington state.
Eric C. Rassbach, a Becket Fund attorney, filed a petition urging the Supreme Court to hear the cake-baker case back-to-back with Arlene's Flowers v. State of Washington given the "wave of religious vendor litigation around the country." The Arlene's Flowers case involves Barronelle Stutzman's refusal to design floral arrangements for a same-sex ceremony of a longtime customer of her flower shop.
"Although the Masterpiece appeal covers some of the recurring questions surrounding religious wedding vendors and same-sex marriage, it does not include significant factual and legal aspects that are present in a large number of these kinds of cases," Rassbach wrote in his petition to the Supreme Court. "[S]hould the court elect to hear Masterpiece alone this term, it could well be confronted with another religious wedding vendor appeal in October Term 2018 or October Term 2019."
Rassbach told the Washington Examiner that the court's adjudication of the cake-baker case in isolation could leave many unanswered questions about how lower courts should resolve disputes involving wedding photographers, wedding planners, and others with a greater level of participation in the same-sex ceremonies at issue.
Rassbach said he thinks the U.S. is going through a "period of uncertainty" that has prompted several new religious liberty cases given the ongoing "societal recalibration on the role of religion" in America.
Such uneasiness nationwide could mean a slew of other cases involving Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) challenges appearing soon at the Supreme Court.
Susan Abeles petitioned the Supreme Court to resolve a dispute stemming from her claim that her government-agency employer, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, unjustly fired her for observing Passover. Aside from questions pertaining to whether Abeles followed the proper protocol for requesting time off from work for her religious observance, Abeles v. Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority could provide the Supreme Court an opportunity to resolve whether plaintiffs must show that the government was motivated by discrimination to bring RFRA challenges.
Similar cases could also soon hit the Supreme Court, which is a prospect conservatives and Republicans pined for when the Senate confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch earlier this year.
Following Gorsuch's addition to the high court, the Supreme Court decided in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer by a 7-2 vote that Missouri unconstitutionally blocked a church-operated daycare from receiving state funds.