RICHLAND, Wash. — In what one conservative Christian talk host termed “devastating” for religious freedom in America, the U.S. Supreme Court last month opted to take no action on a case here that has drawn national attention for eight years.
Barronelle Stutzman, the Christian owner of a floral shop in Richland who declined to provide service for a same-sex wedding in 2013, failed on July 2 to get the Supreme Court to consider her anti-discrimination case. Only three of the nine justices favored hearing it; four are needed to accept a case for review.
As a result, a deeply saddened Stutzman told The Daily Signal news website that unanimous rulings against her in both 2017 and 2019 by the state’s Supreme Court thus stand, and she could potentially lose all she owns. She said not only the flower shop, but her home, retirement and life savings are in jeopardy from huge legal fees and penalties.
Attorney Kristen Waggoner of the Christian legal rights
organization Alliance Defending Freedom has represented the 77-year-old shop owner. She praised Stutzman for standing courageously for her Christian convictions and said it was a “grave injustice” the High Court didn’t affirm her religious freedoms.
A Southern Baptist, Stutzman has contended that arranging flowers is artistic expression protected under the First Amendment. But she was sued both personally and corporately not only by the American Civil Liberties Union, representing the gay couple who eventually married in a small ceremony — Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed —but also by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The lawsuits claimed Stutzman violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act by declining to provide services based on sexual orientation.
But talk host and political commentator Todd Starnes claimed that mainstream media along with radical gay activists had deliberately and falsely portrayed Stutzman as a “homophobic monster,” when in reality she had gladly served many gay customers and even hired gay staff. However, when it came to same-sex weddings, Stutzman drew a hard line because of her Christian beliefs.
“Today is a devastating day for religious liberty in the United States of America … The question now becomes if gay-owned businesses will be forced to violate their deeply held beliefs and provide services to people who oppose gay marriage,” Starnes said.
Ferguson was pleased by the High Court’s inaction on the case, calling it a “historic victory for equality.” Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ political lobbying group, expressed similar views.
Justices who said they would have taken Stutzman’s case are Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.