RICHLAND, Wash. — Already getting national attention because a backlash against her Christian convictions could result in the loss of her floral business here, Barronnelle Stutzman is now also threatened with the loss of her home and all her personal assets.
The situation facing Stutzman is decried by Christian leaders both in the Northwest and nationally.
Last month, a Benton County Court ruled that Stutzman could be personally sued because in 2013 she politely declined, because of her faith-based beliefs, to participate in a same-sex wedding order from two longtime customers.
In a 35-page decision issued Jan. 7, Judge Alex Ekstrom concluded that the state Legislature had given Attorney General Bob Ferguson the au-thority to bring a legal challenge against Stutzman. That alarms Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.
“In other words, this judge is suggesting that the state should be able to rob you of your home, livelihood and anything else of value simply because you hold a different political view from the people in power!” Perkins wrote in a web commentary. “That’s a horrifying precedent, one that flies in the face of our basic liberties.”
Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Lynnwood, Wash.-based Family Policy Institute of Washington, shares Perkins’ concern: “There is little doubt that the government’s ability to go after the personal assets of business owners who prefer not to be part of certain events will continue to chill the free exercise of religion that until recently was celebrated and protected in America,” Backholm wrote in an e-mail column.
Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Christian legal rights organization representing Stutzman, argues that Stutzman set up a legal corporation in Washington and that her personal assets should be protected under state law.
Trial is scheduled for March 23 in lawsuits against Stutzman. Ferguson filed the first lawsuit against the Richland grandmother but a second lawsuit was later filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the customers. The lawsuits were brought not only against her shop, Arlene’s Flowers, but also Stutzman personally.
Ferguson alleges that in declining to provide a service for the same-sex ceremony, Stutzman violated the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws.
Backholm said the state Legislature could act immediately to eliminate the basis of the lawsuit, but hasn’t because the public isn’t demanding it. He urged his agency’s constituents to phone the legislative hotline, 1-800-562-6000, and tell them to protect Arlene’s Flowers and the conscience rights of businesses.