The Supreme Court this week refused to hear the case of a woman who said her rights to the free exercise of her religion allowed her to turn away a lesbian couple from renting a room at her Hawaii bed and breakfast.
Phyllis Young, who operates the three-room Aloha Bed & Breakfast in Honolulu, rejected a room request by Diane Cervilli and Taeko Bufford in 2007, NBC reported.
Cervilli and Bufford claimed discrimination, and took their case to the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission in 2008. They launched their lawsuit in 2011. In 2018, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that Young had practiced discrimination.
At the time of the 2018 ruling, Hawaii News Now reported that Young had said gay relationships were “detestable” and “defiled the land.”
Young had argued that she was under the impression that she was not covered by Hawaii’s public accommodation law because she rented fewer than four rooms of her house.
As noted by The Hill, there is a category of exemptions from the law for those who rent fewer than four rooms and live in a house to choose to rent only to individuals compatible with an owner’s lifestyle. However, the Hawaii court ruled this did not apply to Young.
The Supreme Court announced it would not hear the case on Monday.
— Portland NewsChannel (@Portland_NC) March 18, 2019
As noted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which supported Young, “Phyllis applies the same rules to guests that she would to any family member or guest staying under her roof. Phyllis’ Christian beliefs do not allow her to promote or facilitate a non-marital sexual relationship or a romantic relationship between two individuals of the same sex.”
“(T)he Constitution also protects Phyllis’ right not to promote behavior her faith teaches is immoral or to associate with people who are unwilling to respect her deeply held religious beliefs,” the ADF also stated.
In appealing the case, according to CNN, Young’s lawyers argued Young was given a “stark choice” between her faith and getting the income she needed from renting rooms in her house.
Young is a devout Christian “who believes that she is morally responsible for the sexual activity that takes place under her roof,” court papers said, according to CNN.
The lawyers for Cervilli and Bufford, who are no longer together, said free exercise of religion rights must give way in the arena of public commerce, Reuters reported.
“The freedom of religion does not give businesses a right to violate non-discrimination laws,” said Peter Renn, a lawyer with gay rights group Lambda Legal.
“The Supreme Court declined to consider carving out an exception from this basic principle when a business discriminates based on the sexual orientation of its customers,” he said.
James Hochberg, Young’s lawyer, said the ruling will cast a long and troubling shadow over Americans of faith, according to Reuters.
“The government went after Mrs. Young’s constitutionally protected freedom simply for adhering to her faith on her own property,” he said.
“This kind of governmental coercion should disturb every freedom-loving American no matter where you stand on marriage.”
The case had not yet reached the penalty phase when it was appealed to the Supreme Court.
The lower court will now consider that issue.
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