ACLU v. ADF: Reactions to Florist’s Fight for Religious Freedom

By Dustin Siggins Published on November 17, 2016

On Wednesday, attorneys for Baronelle Stutzman fought her case for religious liberty in front of the Washington State Supreme Court. The 72-year old florist, prosecuted by the state for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex couple’s “wedding” in violation of a so-called “non-discrimination” law, faces fines that could shut down her business.

 

The ACLU is representing the gay couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed. They are suing for the $7.91 cost of traveling to another florist, while a judge ordered Stutzman to pay a $1,000 fine plus $1 for court costs and fees for violating the state law. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is representing Stutzman, who is fighting to have the law overturned.

After the hearing, which was covered by The Daily Signal, ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner and ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gil spoke with The Stream about their interpretations of how the case went for their respective clients. 

“I think [the arguments] went well,” said Gil in a phone interview. “I think it’s clear from the questions the justices asked they’re very worried about the ramifications of what Mrs. Stutzman and her legal team are proposing.”

Gil said one justice compared Stutzman’s decision to not provide flowers for the couple’s wedding — even though Ingersoll had been a long-time customer — to treatment of black Americans a half-century ago.

I think it was Justice Owen who mentioned the history of the former Washington Supreme Court justice who was African-American, and when he was a young man, and traveling with Robert F. Kennedy, he wouldn’t be allowed to stay at hotels that Robert Kennedy could stay at. He’d have to stay somewhere else. So I think recognizing the importance of recognizing non-discrimination principles in the public sphere, it seemed that they were understanding of it.

Unlike Gil, Waggoner said Stutzman fared well at the court. “I think things went well at the court today. I was encouraged by the fact that the court was grappling with the state’s unlimited rule that would force all creative professionals, and really everyone, to have to create expression and say things against their will. And the court seemed quite concerned with the breadth of that rule and how it undermines First Amendment jurisprudence.”

Waggoner said the state’s law could endanger both liberals and conservatives:  

You could perhaps have an atheist singer, that under the state’s rule will be forced to perform in an Easter worship service. Or you could have a Democratic speechwriter that under local law will be required to write speeches for Donald Trump. This rule the state is proposing goes goth ways, and it gives the state completely unlimited power to force people to create visual art and to say things that they don’t want to say. That’s un-American, and it’s unconstitutional.

“Never, in the history of our jurisprudence, have we forced someone to express a message or create visual art in violation of their conscience,” concluded Waggoner. “It would be helpful for the other side to think a bit more about the fact that what they’re asking people to do on both sides of the aisle to violate their convictions.”

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