OLYMPIA, Wash. – Reaffirming a position it initially took two years ago, the Washington State Supreme Court last month unanimously ruled that a Christian florist broke the law by refusing to provide service for a gay wedding.
As a result, Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., could yet face the loss of her business, her life savings and her home. Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorney who represented Stutzman before the state’s highest court in 2016, said that the state government not only targeted the floral business but also sued Stutzman in her personal capacity, putting all her personal assets at risk.
Following last month’s ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney John Bursch said they will again appeal Stutzman’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court; ADF is soliciting donations on its website for the case.
The nation’s High Court had sent the state court’s 2017 ruling back to Olympia to review whether, in accordance with the U.S. Con-stitution, the case had been handled with religious neutrality. In last month’s response, the state court determined that it did not act with hostility toward religion.
The case began six years ago, when Stutzman politely refused to provide flowers for the same-sex wedding of Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed; the gay couple later said they suffered an emotional toll from her decision.
Believing that Stutzman was violating state law against discrimination, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer-protection lawsuit against the florist.
Stutzman countered that her religious rights as a business owner were being violated and that forcing her to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding was tantamount to “compelled speech” because it meant she would effectively be endorsing such a ceremony. But the state court last month ruled that selling wedding flowers is not speech, but conduct, and thus was not protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
After the latest ruling, ADF issued a statement criticizing the state court for not acknowledging what ADF sees as ongoing hostility by Ferguson toward Stutzman.
It noted Ferguson personally took legal action against Stutzman even though Ingersoll and Freed did not themselves file a formal complaint against her. ADF also charged that the state did not file a similar lawsuit when another business — a gay-owned Seattle coffee shop — “obscenely berated and discriminated against Christian customers.”
“It takes a special kind of focused hostility to target this woman, to relentlessly pursue her business and personal assets, all for the purpose of making an example of her,” said Waggoner. “Yet that’s exactly what the State of Washington is doing.”
Todd Starnes, a Fox News commentator on religious freedom issues, noted that Stutzman had willingly served gay and lesbian customers in the past for flower orders nor related to weddings.
Despite that, said Starnes, “militant LGBT activists” are now demanding that business owners like Stutzman “set aside their religious beliefs for the sake of political correctness.”