Washington Court Rules Against Christian Grandma Florist Fined for Not Working Gay Wedding

Barronelle Stutzman, surrounded by supporters, speaks with the media after appearing for the Washington Supreme Court at Bellevue College on Nov. 15, 2016.
Barronelle Stutzman, surrounded by supporters, speaks with the media after appearing for the Washington Supreme Court at Bellevue College on Nov. 15, 2016. | (Screengrab: Facebook/Alliance Defending Freedom)

The Washington Supreme Court has dealt another blow to Christian grandma florist Barronelle Stutzman by ruling on Thursday that she violated state law when she declined to make floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

As previously reported, Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Washington, was sued in 2013 by Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed, who were backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, after she told them she wouldn't provide services for their marriage ceremony.

In 2015, Benton County Superior Court ruled that she violated the state's nondiscrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation. She was fined $1,001 and held responsible for paying the thousands of dollars in legal fees incurred by the gay couple.

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Considering that Stutzman had served Ingersol for about a decade and only objected to using her talents to create floral arrangements for their same-sex wedding, she, with the help of the law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, challenged the ruling to the state's high court. However, the nine-justice appellate court unanimously upheld the ruling of Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom.

A majority opinion written by Associate Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud argues that the Washington Law Against Discrimination "does not infringe" on any of Stutzman's constitutional protections.

"The state of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case — refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD," the opinion states. "We also hold that the WLAD may be enforced against Stutzman because it does not infringe any constitutional protection. As applied in this case, the WLAD does not compel speech or association."

"And assuming that it substantially burdens Stutzman's religious free exercise, the WLAD does not violate her right to religious free exercise under either the First Amendment or article I, section 11 because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations."

In a press release, ADF explained that Stutzman will appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court.

"This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist," Kristen Waggoner, the ADF co-counsel who argued the case before the court in November, said in a statement. "It's wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren't subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees."

Considering Stutzman is on the hook to pay the legal fees incurred by the couple, it could force her into financial ruin because she could be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Our nation has a long history of protecting the right to dissent, but simply because Barronelle disagrees with the state about marriage, the government and ACLU have put at risk everything she owns," Waggoner explained. "This includes not only her business, but also her family's savings, retirement funds, and home. It's no wonder that so many people are rightly calling on President [Donald] Trump to sign an executive order to protect our religious freedom. Because that freedom is clearly at risk for Barronelle and so many other Americans."

The high court's ruling has drawn the ire of prominent religious freedom advocate and social conservative activist Tony Perkins, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.

"Americans were told repeatedly that redefining marriage would have little impact on their lives. Yet now, courts are seeking to drive families from their businesses and now today, even their homes as the result of crippling government-imposed fines designed to force them to deny their faith," Perkins said in a statement. "Barronelle knew her customer and friend identified as gay, yet happily served him for years; she just didn't want to be involved in his wedding. But the ACLU and the Washington State government couldn't stand this, and decided to make an example out of her."

"Cultural elites may succeed in convincing judges to strip away the livelihoods of people but the elites continue to face a losing battle at the ballot box and in the court of public opinion," he added.

Stutzman is not the only Christian wedding vender to be punished for refusing to work same-sex weddings. In Oregon, a Christian couple who owned a successful bakery were fined $135,000 by the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries in 2015 for declining to bake a cake.

As President Trump continues to weigh whether or not to sign an executive order on religious freedom that has been reportedly passed around the Trump administration, over 110,000 people have signed a petition calling on Trump to sign the order to protect people who wish to live their lives in accordance with their religious convictions.

"Although these are state-level issues, they are indicative of the type of unconstitutional actions the radical left vigorously seeks to apply at the federal level. For this reason, we are seeking relief by changes in policy and laws to protect and preserve the religious liberty of not just religious institutions but also of individual Christians and Christian business owners," the petition launched by the American Family Association states.

"While we greatly appreciate your desire to repeal the Johnson Amendment, our humble desire is for you to sign an executive order protecting the First Amendment rights of all Americans throughout the executive branch. This includes protecting the freedom of Christians to exercise their belief that marriage is between husband and wife, that sex is confined between husband and wife, that a person's sex is a fixed and biological reality, and that life begins at conception."

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