A Washington woman who was sued by the state's attorney general after refusing to create floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony has filed a countersuit that argues her decision is constitutionally protected.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed the countersuit Thursday in Benton County Superior Court on behalf of Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Wash. Stutzman's attorneys say the state cannot force her to make decorations for same-sex weddings because she would have to go against her religious convictions to do so.
"Everyone knows that plenty of florists are willing to assist in same-sex ceremonies, so the state has no reason to force Barronelle to violate her deeply held beliefs," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Dale Schowengerdt in a statement. "In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use its intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith convictions. Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs. It is this very freedom that gives America its cherished diversity and protects citizens from state-mandated conformity."
ADF attorneys say forcing the florist to go against her beliefs in this instance would violate both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as the Washington State Constitution, which protects "freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment" and says "no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion."
The countersuit says Stutzman was approached around March 1 by Robert Ingersoll, a gay patron, who asked if she would create the floral arrangements for his wedding. She declined, however, telling him she wouldn't do so because of her Christian faith. He asked her to recommend other florists, which she did, and they hugged each other before he left the store, the document states.
A few weeks later, Stutzman received a letter from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office threatening legal sanctions, citing Washington's Law Against Discrimination and Consumer Protection Act. Ferguson later sued her.
"It's the Attorney General's job to enforce consumer protection laws which prohibit discrimination in the marketplace," Ferguson said in a statement emailed to The Christian Post. "If Ms. Stutzman sells wedding flowers to heterosexual couples, she must sell them to same-sex couples. As an individual, she is free to hold religious beliefs but as a business owner, she may not violate our state's laws against discrimination – no matter what she personally believes. "
Stutzman has both employed and sold products to gay individuals throughout her career. She was not opposed to selling to people who identify as homosexual, ADF attorneys say, only to promoting the same-sex marriage ceremony. The countersuit says she believes "marriage is defined by God as a union of man and woman."
The 68-year-old woman sold flowers to Ingersoll over the course of nearly nine years, most of which she knew he was gay, and she "enjoys the warm and cordial relationship" she has with him, the countersuit claims. Ingersoll previously purchased items from Arlene's Flowers for special events such as birthdays, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, anniversaries and more.
Stutzman has been creating floral arrangements for 35 years, the countersuit says, and has owned Arlene's Flowers for 16 years. Washington only recently adopted same-sex marriage in 2012, and this is the first time she has ever been asked to make floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony.
The ACLU of Washington has also filed suit against Stutzman on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed.