By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher
RICHLAND, Wash. — The attorneys for local floral shop owner Barronelle Stutzman have not given up hope that the nation’s highest court might eventually turn things around in her favor.
Jake Warner, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom’s appellate team, confirmed to Christian News Northwest that they have recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court again to review the religious freedom case of the Christian businesswoman.
Warner said what makes an appeal potentially successful is a similar legal battle in Colorado being waged by another Christian business owner. The Denver, Colo.-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in July ruled against Lorie Smith, a website designer who refuses to make wedding websites for same-sex couples.
The circuit court’s decision came about four weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court opted to take no action on Stutzman’s case, which has drawn national attention for eight years. Only three of the nine justices favored hearing it; four are needed to accept a case for review.
But the ruling in Smith’s case, in ADF’s view, “deepens a split in courts around the country” regarding a business owners’ religious freedom rights, said Warner. ADF plans to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court on Smith’s behalf. Warner said the situation with Smith is the kind of “change of circumstances” that might also compel the Supreme Court to take another look at Stutzman’s case.
There is a common thread in cases like Smith’s, Stutzman’s and Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips’s, according to ADF. In all, the business operators contend they should not be forced to express messages and celebrate events that violate their faith.
“No one should be banished from the mar-ketplace simply for living and working consistently with their religious beliefs,” stated ADF on its website. “Not a cake artist. Not a floral artist. Not a web designer.”
Conservative and Christian commentators across the nation in July blasted the High Court for its inaction on the Stutzman case, because it left standing unanimous rulings against her in both 2017 and 2019 by the Washington State Supreme Court and meant she could potentially lose all she owns. Stutzman said not only the flower shop, but her home, retirement and life savings are in jeopardy from huge legal fees and penalties.
Stutzman was sued both personally and corporately not only by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the gay couple for whom Stutzman declined to provide flowers for their wedding, but also by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The lawsuits claimed Stutzman violated state anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act by declining to give services based on sexual orientation.
Warner said it is not often that the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to give new consideration to a case it has earlier opted not to act upon. But he said the court several weeks ago indicated it could take a fresh look.
“It looks like the Supreme Court might take up Barronelle’s case,” he said. “We don’t want to say we’re optimistic, but we’re hopeful.”