A broad base of organizations, including the Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union, have filed amicus briefs asking the Supreme Court to place Stormans v. Wiesman on its docket for the coming year, saying that the case contains elements essential to religious liberty.
“The Orthodox Jewish community knows all too well what it means to be targeted for selective enforcement of laws that might appear neutral on their face,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president. “That is why we have such a great stake in the Stormans case, and why we have asked the Supreme Court to make clear that selective enforcement designed to inhibit religiously motivated practice is unconstitutional.”
As Hamodia reported this past July, when plaintiffs claims were ruled against by a Federal Appeals court, 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, citing that many other retailers have been permitted to make similar decisions based on business and convenience concerns.
The Agudah brief and many other petitioners posit that the court ruling violates a precedent set in a 1993 case, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, saying that government is prohibited “from punishing religiously motivated conduct while exempting the same conduct when undertaken for nonreligious reasons.” The brief adds that the decision “threatens to consign religion and religious objectors to second-class status,” in society.
“It [religious liberty] is essential to our community and the American society in which we live,” OU Advocacy Center Executive Director Nathan Diament told Hamodia.
“The OU joined with other organizations to urge the Supreme Court to take the appeal of the Stormans case because we must oppose a government policy, in this case in the State of Washington that would compel religious citizens to violate their religious beliefs in the course of their daily work.”
When the court ruled against the plaintiffs, they wrote that the regulation was “neutral” and applied equally “regardless of motivation.” The court’s opinion did, however, acknowledge that “pharmacies whose owners object … for religious reasons may be burdened disproportionately” by the state’s rules.
The State of 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.
“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 when the negative ruling was first announced.
Among the briefs in support of the petition are those submitted by 43 members of Congress; 13 state attorneys general; 29 notable legal scholars; more than 4,600 individual health care professionals; and 38 professional pharmacy associations, including the nation’s largest, the American Pharmacists Association.