OLYMPIA, Wash. — Numerous states and groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs several weeks ago with the Washington Supreme Court in support of a Richland floral artist and the principle that the government cannot force Americans to promote messages and participate in events with which they disagree.
Among the parties filing briefs are 13 states, various constitutional scholars and legal experts, a wide range of religious organizations and denominations, and an international association of Christian photographers.
The Washington Supreme Court agreed in March to hear the case of floral artist and business owner Barronelle Stutzman, whom the state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union sued for her faith-based decision not to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys represent Stutzman and her business, Arlene’s Flowers.
“Barronelle and many others like her around the country have been willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “The briefs that have been filed in support of Barronelle encourage the court to affirm the broad protections that both the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution afford to freedom of speech and conscience. These freedoms protect Barronelle in the same way that they protect an atheist painter’s right to decline to paint a mural for a church, or a pro-same-sex-marriage print shop owner’s right to decline to print materials for a rally promoting marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
A lower court ruled that Stutzman must pay penalties and attorneys’ fees for declining to use her artistic abilities to design custom floral arrangements for a longtime customer’s same-sex ceremony. Rather than participate, Stutzman referred Rob Ingersoll, whom she considers a friend and had served for nearly 10 years, to several other florists who were comfortable promoting and participating in their ceremony.
“This case is not about refusing service on the basis of sexual orientation or dislike for another person who is preciously created in God’s image. I sold flowers to Rob for years. I helped him find someone else to design his wedding arrangements. I count him as a friend,” Stutzman wrote in an op-ed for The Seattle Times “I want to believe that a state as diverse as Washington, with our long commitment to personal and religious freedoms, would be as willing to honor my right to make those kinds of choices as it is to honor Rob’s right to make his.”
“This country has a rich history of protecting the rights of conscience and the free exercise of religion,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who led the 13-state coalition that filed a brief backing Stutzman. “Unfortunately, these rights have recently come under a sustained and coordinated assault even though they are the very reason many came to this country in the first place. Along with my colleagues, I am urging the Washington Supreme Court to recognize the actions of the defendant are not discriminatory or unlawful but rather reflect sincerely held religious beliefs that should be accommodated in our pluralistic and tolerant society.”
Washington attorneys George Ahrend and John Connelly are also counsel of record in the lawsuits,State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers and Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers.