Court Rules Against Religious Objectors in Washington State

A federal appeals court in Washington State ruled against plaintiffs who claim a state regulation forces them to choose between their conscience and their livelihood.

The case, Stormans v. Wiesman, involves a rule set by the Washington State Board of Pharmacy which requires businesses to supply pharmaceuticals that some find objectionable on religious grounds. Ralph’s Thriftway, which has been operated by the Stormans family for four generations, refers customers seeking the goods to one of 30 other stores within a five-mile radius that do carry the drugs, but is facing cancelation of its pharmacy license for refusing to stock the products.

Plaintiffs claim the state measure is discriminatory.

“The core issue is whether the state has the right to say that businesses can engage in referrals for economic or convenience reasons but not for religious ones,” Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who are co-representatives of the Stormans family, told Hamodia.

The court ruled against the plaintiffs, saying that the regulation was “neutral” and applied equally “regardless of motivation.” The court’s opinion, written by Judge Susan P. Graber, did, however, acknowledge that “pharmacies whose owners object … for religious reasons may be burdened disproportionately” by the state’s rules.

Also cited by the court’s reasoning was that the nature of the objections did not qualify as a “fundamental right” that warranted protection under the constitution’s due process clause.

More than 35 states allow pharmacies to refer customers based on religious objections and the practice is approved by the American Pharmacists Association. Washington allows for individual pharmacists to refuse to provide pharmaceuticals for reasons of conscience, but requires that another employee of that business be available to provide them.

The Stormans family’s argument that their business is protected by the constitution’s establishment clause is rooted in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby, in which they equated closely held businesses to individual citizens.

Two pharmacists, whose jobs are in jeopardy if the regulation remains in place, are co-plaintiffs.

After a 12-day trial, in 2012, a federal court in Washington struck down the regulation as unconstitutional. The state appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which Thursday ruled to uphold the regulation.

Mrs. Waggoner said that her clients plan to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, saying there is much at stake.

“This is one more case of people having to choose between following their conscience and their business. It is a question of a fourth-generation pharmacy that might have to close or move to a different state,” she said. “If the state takes the next step and tries to shut down any Catholic-sponsored institution that refuses to sell these drugs, it will create a real public health crisis.”