RICHLAND. Wash. — Most news reports about her refer to Barronnelle Stutzman as a floral shop owner. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) a Christian law association defending her, calls her a “floral artist,” emphasizing her rights of artistic expression.
Either way, the devout Christian from Washington’s Tri-Cities remains in the news, as she last month asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the state’s high court in a discrimination case against her. Her attorneys say that state court ruling could destroy her financially because her religious beliefs prevented her from serving a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Stutzman must wait until the justices return from their recess in October to find out if they will hear her case.
In 2013, Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, declined to serve the same-sex wedding of a longtime customer who had requested her service. She recommended her customer to another nearby floral shop.
Stutzman said she declined not because of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed’s sexual orientation, but because of her Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. She argued that arranging flowers is artistic expression protected under the First Amendment.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union eventually sued Stutzman. A lower court ruled against her, ordering her to pay a fine and legal costs. She took her case to the Washington State Supreme Court, which unanimously upheld the lower court’s decision in February. It said that as a business owner Stutzman had to abide by the state’s anti-discrimination law despite her religious beliefs.
The legal petition was filed July 14 with the U.S. Supreme Court. The complaint contends that the Washington courts’ reasoning is so broad that it “extends to nearly all speech created for profit” and is “particularly hazardous.” Also dangerous is the “extreme nature” of the punishment for the store owner, which threatens to bankrupt her personally.
Stutzman has said the civil penalties, damages and attorneys fees on the civil cases could end up costing her the business, her life savings and retirement funds, and her family home.
“If the government can ruin Barronelle for peacefully living and working according to her faith, it can punish anyone else for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued before the Washington Supreme Court together with co-counsel George Ahrend in November of last year. “The government shouldn’t have the power to force a 72-year-old grandmother to surrender her freedom in order to run her family business. Anyone who supports the First Amendment rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to all of us should stand with Barronelle.”
The 54-page petition notes that Stutzman hires LGBT employees and serves LGBT clients on a regular basis. “But part of Barronelle’s wedding business involves attending and facilitating the ceremony itself and Barronelle simply could not reconcile her faith with celebrating and participating in a same-sex wedding,” it states.
“Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop all those years ago,” said Stutzman. “There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees. He just enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him. But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ. I’m not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference.”
ADF is also asking the high court to consolidate Stutzman’s case with a similar ADF case that the court already accepted, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which involves self-described cake artist Jack Phillips.
Phillips told a same-sex couple that he could bake something for their wedding reception, just not a wedding cake. An administrative law judge and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission found Phillips violated anti-discrimination statutes.