For the last eight years, Barronelle Stutzman, a 76-year-old florist, grandmother and devout Christian, has had to trust God in ways she never could have imagined. That trust has only increased, despite heartbreak at the Supreme Court on July 2, when six of the nine justices chose not to hear Stutzman’s appeal after a prolonged battle between her lawyers and the state of Washington over her right to free speech and religious expression.
Knowing the financial ruin that Stutzman could face from recouped court costs alone, her lead attorney, Alliance Defending Freedom General Counsel Kristen Waggoner, called the high court’s denial of her case “a grave injustice.”
Stutzman knows the injustice all too well. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch—the three who signaled they would have taken her case—seem to know it too. She needed four justices to agree to hear her case.
If Stutzman ever had a reason to drop her countenance, to lose faith, to cave in, it’s now. But that’s not who she is.
“There’s a cost to stand,” the unwavering but soft-spoken Stutzman proclaimed in a phone interview. “But there’s a greater cost if we don’t stand.”
In fact, concerned as Stutzman is about potentially losing nearly everything she owns—it’s not hyperbole, Waggoner notes—she hopes the Supreme Court’s decision this summer serves as a wake-up call to Christians, to pray and to speak up when other believers are drawn into the crosshairs of the government over their beliefs, like she has been.
She never invited any of this attention. She wasn’t looking for a fight. Far from it. She never saw it coming.
Back in 2013, Stutzman was approached one day by a longtime customer and someone she considered a friend, Rob Ingersoll, about creating floral arrangements for his upcoming wedding to his partner, Curt Freed. Stutzman took Ingersoll by the hand and gently explained her predicament: She is a devoted Christian who believes marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman based on Scripture. After some friendly talk about Ingersoll’s future plans and offering to sell Ingersoll any premade arrangements, Stutzman gave Ingersoll the names of three other florists whom she believed would serve him well. The two hugged, he left, and Stutzman thought she had diplomatically resolved the issue.
She was wrong. The next day, Freed complained on social media about Ingersoll’s interaction with Stutzman, and a few days later, the state attorney general’s office, having caught wind of it, notified Stutzman that she was violating Washington’s anti-discrimination law by not servicing Ingersoll and Freed’s wedding.
She has been fighting ever since for her rights and livelihood amid the legal hounding of the state of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Having lost in a trial court, twice at the Washington Supreme Court, and seeing the U.S. Supreme Court decline to take her case, Stutzman’s fate- is dictated largely by how far her pursuers seek to go.
However, there is hope Stutzman’s case might still be addressed. ADF announced Aug. 3 that it is appealing a similar case before the high court on behalf of a Colorado web designer. Alongside it, ADF will ask the court to either reconsider their denial of Stutzman’s case or hold it until the other case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, is decided.
Meanwhile, though, the Supreme Court’s decision to pass on taking Stutzman’s case leaves standing the Washington Supreme Court’s 2019 decision against her and leaves unsettled questions over whether or not the government can compel religious people and others to express messages contrary to their beliefs.
It also means the ACLU could financially ruin Stutzman and her husband, Darold, if it decides to recoup substantial attorney fees incurred over eight years.
In 2013, Arlene’s Flowers had 11 employees. Today, Stutzman’s business—she no longer does weddings because of Washington’s restrictive law—has six employees. Stutzman knew the potential cost. She hasn’t flinched.
“People always ask me, ‘Are you going to change your mind?’ And my answer is, ‘When God changes His Word, then I can change my mind.’ But I am one person, one voice, and we need many voices and many people that are just as willing to stand up for our faith and our freedoms. If we’re silent and tell ourselves ‘it’s not going to affect me, I don’t want to get involved,’ we’ll be buried.”
She has lost business, she says, not just from weddings, but from the business that often comes after weddings, when couples start having children. “Once we do their weddings, we usually have them for a lifetime.” With that portion of the business gone, a smaller staff has rallied.
“My staff has grown closer to the Lord,” Stutzman says. “Some are saved, some are not. But we’ve become a unit, and my faith, of course, has increased a hundredfold.”
Isaiah 41:9-10 is a passage Stutzman says has helped her continue more than any other.
“It basically says: ‘You’re my servant. I have chosen you. I’m not going to reject you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you and I will uphold you with My right hand.’ I mean, what more can you ask for?”
Stutzman’s pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Bill Dupignac, says that despite her being “singled out for persecution” by the state, she and Darold have exemplified Romans 8:28 trust—believing that God works all things together for good for His children and His purposes.
“As she has said, ‘We must trust in God, even if our future is uncertain. God knows.’
“When Barronelle’s case was denied, her brief statement to me with no hint of bitterness or anger was, ‘Pastor, God is in control.’ Her trust in God that day helped strengthen my faith.”
Waggoner, meanwhile, says that the high court’s decision not to take Stutzman’s case has “real consequences when the court leaves open this question about whether individuals have the right to only express messages that are consistent with their convictions, and whether they should fear government punishment if they decline to express messages that aren’t.”
Still, Waggoner says she is optimistic that the Supreme Court will eventually bring clarity to these critical questions as other cases make their way through the courts.
“Barronelle’s case is not the end,” Waggoner says. “If anything, it should be for all of us a motivator to say this issue is too important to let go. We need to stand and protect freedom for everyone.”
Regardless of what the high court does, Stutzman is looking up for her future.
“What we have, God’s given us,” she says, “and what He chooses to do with it is up to Him also. Again, there’s a cost to stand. But there’s also a greater cost if we don’t stand.”
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom