According to attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who are representing Stutzman, they decided to appeal to the nation’s highest court after the Supreme Court of the State of Washington affirmed a lower-court ruling that requires her to pay the attorneys’ fees that the ACLU racked up in suing her. Often, in cases like this, the attorneys’ fees for each side are hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.
Stutzman is a 72-year-old floral artist who owns and operates Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington and who has served everyone in her community regardless of their race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation. Because of her beliefs about marriage, she told a long-time customer, Rob Ingersoll, that she was unable to make the flowers for his wedding to another man. She offered to help him find another florist, and said she was happy to sell premade arrangements or raw flowers to couples planning such an event, but that her strong Christian belief in the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman would not allow her to get more involved in the event.
With the help of the ACLU, Ingersoll sued for discrimation and demanded a settlement in which she would be forced to publicly apologize, donate $5,000 to a local LGBT youth center and stopped refusing to service people due to sexual orientation.
The state also filed a consumer protection suit against her which wanted to issue a penalty of $2,000 and an agreement not to discriminate in the future.
Stutzman refused these terms and countersued. In the process, she has incurred crippling legal fees that could cost her everything, including her home, all because she refuses to be forced to violate her deeply held religious beliefs.
“This case is about crushing dissent,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued the case before the court with co-counsel George Ahrend late last year. “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.”
She adds: “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.”
This includes not only her business, but also her family’s savings, retirement funds, and even her home.
As Waggoner said during a press briefing yesterday: “No one would expect a Muslim journalist to write a piece for a religious journal that attacked Mohammed; no one would expect an Orthodox Jewish artist to create a mural for a religious customer that contradicted the Torah’s teachings. Nor should Barronelle be forced to create custom expression celebrating a same-sex wedding.”
It’s no wonder that so many people are rightly calling on President Trump to sign an executive order to protect our religious freedom, Waggoner said in reference to the draft of an order that would guarantee religious freedom to all people and put an end to these kinds of injustices. “Because that freedom is clearly at risk for Barronelle and so many other Americans, and because no executive order can fix all of the threats to that freedom, we will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and reverse this grave injustice.”
Stutzman insists that she has nothing against Ingersoll or his partner.
“There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees,” she said. “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. 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.”
Waggoner believes we all have a reason to fear a government that can ruin a 72-year-old grandmother for politely disagreeing with a friend.
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” she said. “Otherwise, the government requires surrender, not nondiscrimination. And no one in America should be required to surrender their constitutional rights.”
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