Court Puts Objecting Florist’s House, Personal Property at Risk for Seizure
Barronelle Stutzman may be held personally liable for millions of dollars merely for refusing to provide a floral arrangement for a same-sex marriage.
The Washington State Supreme Court today unanimously upheld a judgment against a florist who declined to create a floral arrangement for a same-sex marriage. She had previously provided the gay couple flowers for other occasions, but told them she couldn’t supply flowers for their “wedding,” because same-sex marriage was incompatible with her Christian beliefs.
The court held that the government can force individuals to provide artistic works and participate in events they disagree with. The nine justices claimed that Barronelle Stutzman violated anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. The court found her personally accountable, meaning the state can seize her home, personal property, savings and bank accounts to pay any damages fines or attorneys fees awarded against her.
The Court Says: No Violation of Her Rights
A Southern Baptist, Stutzman lives in Richland, one of the most conservative areas in Washington state. She has been in the florist business for 30 years, having started out delivering flowers in her mother’s business. She now owns Arlene’s Flowers.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the gay couple sued her in 2013. Ferguson has been making a name for himself aggressively pursuing a liberal activist agenda as attorney general, with aspirations for higher office.
In 2016, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom fined Stutzman and awarded attorney’s fees against her. Stutzman appealed the lower court’s decision to the state’s highest court.
The Washington State Supreme Court found forcing her to provide flowers for a gay wedding did not violate her constitutional rights. She provided services for people of other religions, the judges argued, and had no grounds for refusing service to anyone else. “As Stutzman acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism,” the opinion said.
However, Stutzman was not objecting on the grounds that her services would constitute an endorsement of another religion. She was objecting on the grounds that doing that would condone and aid something against her religion, thus violating her freedom of religion.
She also objected on the grounds of free speech, not just freedom of religion. The court rejected her claim that its interpretation of Washington’s anti-discrimination law violates her right free speech.
A Case About Crushing Dissent
Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom which is representing Stutzman, denounced the decision. “This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist,” she said. The ADF issued a press release explaining how the activist ACLU operates to force through these types of cases.
I will mention that the ACLU raised $24 million in a single weekend recently. And this is what is does with its treasure: file suit against a humble grandmother who was literally minding her own business on the day when she referred a long time customer (who she served dozens of times fully aware that he is gay) to nearby florists who would be willing to celebrate same-sex weddings. While ADF is providing, as we do for all of our clients, free legal representation, the ACLU can and will come after her for legal fees that may top out north of a million dollars.
The organization said the decision marked “a decisive blow against fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.”
ADF intends to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court declined to hear a similar case in 2014 involving a photographer who refused to service a same-sex wedding.
A page has been set up to help Stutzman. An effort is being made to encourage President Trump to sign an executive order protecting religious freedom. Others are talking about raising funds for her.
— AllianceDefends (@AllianceDefends) February 16, 2017
Stutzman says this isn’t about herself, but about the bigger picture of protecting the Constitution. She warned in an op-ed in The Spokesman-Review (in Spokane), “Does anyone really believe that a government that gives itself the power to force people to believe (and not believe) things and can order artists to create state-sanctioned messages will only use that power to bend one small-town florist to its will — and then leave everyone else alone?”
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