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Florist aims for Supreme Court for religious liberty

OLYMPIA, Wash. (BP) — Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman has lost her appeal of a ruling declaring she cannot refuse business that violates her religious beliefs.

The Washington Supreme Court today (Feb. 16) upheld a lower court ruling convicting Stutzman of violating the federal and state civil rights of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to design floral arrangements for their homosexual wedding nearly four years ago.

The Southern Baptist grandmother remains liable for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and damages but will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, her defense team from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) reported today.

“It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will,” ADF senior counsel Kristen Waggoner said in a press release after the decision was announced. “Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees.”

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the ruling a loss for every American who values liberty and civility.

“The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling shortchanges our nation’s most fundamental freedom in favor of ideological conformity,” Moore told Baptist Press. “Barronelle Stutzman followed her genuinely held beliefs without hostility toward any, and yet finds herself the target of a government that wants to steamroll her constitutional rights.

“The Court held that the government can force citizens to use their creative gifts and expressive speech to participate in and endorse acts they believe to be immoral,” Moore said. “My prayer is that this ruling would be overturned and that the U.S. Supreme Court would recognize the crucial importance of religious liberty.”

The ERLC is among several groups that filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the florist.

Stutzman, owner of Arlene Flowers in Richmond, refused to design the floral arrangements for longtime customer Ingersoll in March 2013. Instead, Stutzman said she referred Ingersoll to a florist more comfortable promoting a same-sex ceremony.

The case “is about crushing dissent,” ADF’s Waggoner said.

“In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” she said. “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 [American Civil Liberties Union] have put at risk everything she owns. This includes not only her business, but also her family’s savings, retirement funds and home.”

Stutzman described one of the plaintiffs in the case as a friend.

“Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop all those years ago,” Stutzman said in the ADF press release. “There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees. He just enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him.

“But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ,” Stutzman said. “I’m not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference.”