Compiled from WORLD News Service
and other news sources
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Although a state Supreme Court ruling here last month on religious rights greatly pleased this state’s governor, leading voices in the evangelical Christian community nationally expressed uniform outrage over the decision made against a Richland floral shop owner.
“This decision is a loss not only for Barronelle Stutzman but for every American who values liberty and civility over coercion by the government,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.” My prayer is that this ruling would be overturned and that the U.S. Supreme Court would recognize the crucial importance of religious liberty.”
“The Supreme Court must correct this gross injustice and we urge President Trump to sign an executive order protecting religious freedom to ensure the federal government does not engage in the same discriminatory behavior as rogue states like Washington,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.
Many other evangelical leaders objected vehemently as well to the Feb. 16 ruling that Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, had violated state laws when she refused in 2013 to make custom arrangements for a longtime customer’s same-sex wedding. The unanimous decision by the Olympia court affirms Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom’s ruling in the case.
The judge also awarded $1,001 in penalties and costs to the state.
The ruling also continues to make Stutzman personally liable, putting the 72-year-old grandmother in jeopardy of losing all business and personal assets except her home. According to her attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), because Stutzman has been ordered to pay all attorney’s fees racked up during the four-year legal battle, that could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Stutzman, a Southern Baptist, has said she declined her services not because of the couple’s sexual orientation, but because of her religious views on marriage.
Stutzman had asked the state court to review Ekstrom’s 2015 order. Ekstrom had sided with state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the same-sex couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. They sued Stutzman, citing the state’s anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act.
The case was heard by the state court in November in Bellevue and has been closely watched across the nation.
In a written statement, Gov. Jay Inslee praised the ruling, saying it was “in favor of equality for all Washingtonians … By ruling that intolerance based on sexual orientation is unlawful, the court affirmed that Washington state will remain a place where no one can be discriminated against because of who they love.”
Stutzman’s attorneys said they will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In both trials of Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers, they argued the state’s anti-discrimination law compelled Stutzman to create floral arrangements in violation of her religious liberty, freedom of association, and free speech rights.
“This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued before the court together with co-counsel George Ahrend in November.
“… It’s no wonder that so many people are rightly calling on President Trump to sign an executive order to protect our religious freedom. Because that freedom is clearly at risk for Barronelle and so many other Americans, and because no executive order can fix all of the threats to that freedom, we will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and reverse this grave injustice.”
The state high court, in upholding the lower court decision, said Stutzman’s creative efforts constituted “conduct,” not “speech,” and the law “protects patrons, not business owners.”
“Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the justices wrote.
Stutzman’s lawyers also voiced alarm over the Washington high court’s citation of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage. In their dissent from the Obergefell decision, U.S. Supreme Court justices warned it would be used against citizens who maintain a traditional view of marriage.
“Barronelle’s story demonstrates a troubling trend — governmental agencies and officials that have grown increasingly hostile to religious freedom, particularly the freedom of people who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” ADF wrote in response to the Washington decision. “These widespread efforts to suppress freedom are rooted in a disdain for this particular religious belief —a belief that, in the words of the U.S. Supreme Court, is ‘decent and honorable’ and held ‘in good faith by reasonable and sincere people.’ ”
The courts dismissed Stutzman’s argument that her refusal to create flower arrangements did not constitute a rejection of Rob Ingersoll as a gay man. In dismissing that claim, the court cited the case of Elane Photography v. Willock, in which a New Mexico wedding photographer declined to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. The photographer lost the case when the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled religious beliefs must be subjugated to civil rights.
Stutzman’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court will be the second such religious liberty case pending before the nation’s highest court. Another ADF client, Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, asked the justices to hear his case out of Colorado last year. The justices have not decided yet whether to hear Phillips’ case.