‘Very Dark Day’: High Court Won’t Hear Washington Florist’s Religious Liberty Case

‘Very Dark Day’: High Court Won’t Hear Washington Florist’s Religious Liberty Case

The Supreme Court’s decision to decline an appeal by Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman, who was fined by the state for refusing to design a flower arrangement for a same-sex wedding due to her Christian beliefs, was a “very dark day in the Supreme Court,” the leader of the firm representing Stutzman says. 

Stutzman has been embroiled in a battle for her livelihood for eight years as her home state has brought the full force of Washington’s antidiscrimination law against her.

Alliance Defending Freedom CEO Michael Farris said in a statement that the July 2 decision to not grant a hearing at the high court “sends a very bad signal about general claims of religious freedom when in conflict with LGBT rights.” 

“We should all expect a scene reminiscent of the celebration at the Stone Table in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’” Farris said. “The LGBT forces will come after every Christian business owner with fierce intentions and a taste for revenge. 

“People of faith are not being allowed to coexist,” he continued. “We are being compelled to celebrate that which God commands us to avoid.”

Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, had been serving Rob Ingersoll for nearly a decade when he came to the shop in 2013 and asked Stutzman to design floral arrangements to celebrate his marriage to another man.

Stutzman politely declined, explaining that her Biblical beliefs prevented her from fulfilling his request. But she did refer Ingersoll to three local florists whom she thought would do a good job.

Before Ingersoll left the shop, he and Stutzman hugged—a sign that Stutzman took as meaning their friendship was still intact.

The following day, Ingersoll’s partner, Curt Freed, posted about the encounter on social media, prompting news coverage that was then seen by the Washington attorney general. 

Although the attorney general’s office received no complaint about the incident, the office contacted Stutzman and requested an “Assurance of Discontinuance,” which would state that Stutzman would provide wedding floral services equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. When she refused to sign the document, the state sued Arlene’s Flowers—as well as Stutzman in her personal capacity—alleging violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act.

Later, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed.

In 2017, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Stutzman.

Later that year, Stutzman appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It then sent her case back to the Washington Supreme Court in June 2018 after the decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

But the Washington Supreme Court doubled down on its original ruling against Stutzman, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision not to hear the case means that the ruling against her will stand.

Both Farris and Kristen Waggoner, ADF general counsel and Stutzman’s attorney, vowed to not give up.

“Although the outcome of this case is tragic, the critical work of protecting the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans must continue,” Waggoner said

“A government that can crush someone like Barronelle, who kindly served her gay customer for nearly a decade but simply declined to create art celebrating one sacred ceremony, can use its power to crush any of us regardless of our political ideology or views on important issues like marriage,” she warned.

Waggoner pointed out that other courts, such as the Arizona Supreme Court in the case of Brush & Nib Studioand the 8th Circuit in the case of Minnesota-based video production company Telescope Media Group, have ruled that the government cannot force creative professionals to create artistic expressions that violate their religious beliefs.

“We are confident that the Supreme Court will eventually join those courts in affirming the constitutionally protected freedom of creative professionals to live and work consistently with their most deeply held beliefs,” she said.

Three of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative justices—Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch—said they would have heard the case.

“Our country was founded to make religious freedom secure as our first freedom,” wrote Farris. “We cannot give up the essence of America voluntarily. 

“We will stand up before people,” he concluded. “We will kneel in prayer before God. We will run into battle with the certain knowledge that all that is just and true and pure is on our side.”

Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

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