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Floral artist heads back to US Supreme Court to protect her freedom

Washington Supreme Court minimizes US Supreme Court’s protection for freedom, rules against Barronelle Stutzman
Floral artist heads back to US Supreme Court to protect her freedom

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing floral artist Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take her case after the Washington Supreme Court ruled against her Thursday. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the state high court’s previous ruling against Stutzman and ordered it to reconsider her case in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. Without even holding an oral argument, the state court came back with the same result, repeating verbatim much of what it said in its original decision rather than reconsidering the case as the U.S. Supreme Court directed.

ADF will host a media briefing featuring ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch at 1 p.m. EDT (10 a.m. PDT) Thursday. Interested media may participate online or by calling (425) 440-5100 using guest PIN 356719#.

“Barronelle serves all customers; she simply declines to celebrate or participate in sacred events that violate her deeply held beliefs,” said Bursch. “Despite that, the state of Washington has been openly hostile toward Barronelle’s religious beliefs about marriage, and now the Washington Supreme Court has given the state a pass. We look forward to taking Barronelle’s case back to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Washington’s highest court read the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision as narrowly as possible, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court’s condemnation of government hostility toward religion applies only to adjudicatory bodies and no other branch of government. As ADF attorneys explain, other U.S. Supreme Court decisions say the exact opposite. In fact, Stutzman’s argument that the state attorney general showed hostility toward religion is what caused the U.S. Supreme Court to send the case back in the first place.

In addition to giving Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson a free pass for religious hostility because he is not a judge, the Washington Supreme Court opinion ignored everything else that Masterpiece Cakeshop—and more recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions like National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra and Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31—had to say about free speech and expression, ADF attorneys point out. Those opinions provide strong support for Stutzman’s claim indicate that states can’t force creative professionals who serve everyone to celebrate events or express messages that violate their faith.

In the Masterpiece case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Colorado’s decision to punish cake artist Jack Phillips for living and working consistently with his religious beliefs about marriage, just as Stutzman has been trying to do while enduring lawsuits from Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union. The two sued Stutzman after she declined, because of her faith, to personally participate in—or design custom floral arrangements celebrating—the same-sex wedding of a customer she had served for nearly 10 years. Rather than participate in a sacred event that violates her faith, Stutzman referred Rob Ingersoll, whom she considers a friend, to several nearby florists. The two then discussed his wedding plans, they hugged, and Ingersoll left.

“The state not only went after Barronelle’s business but also sued her in her personal capacity—putting all her personal assets, including her life savings, at risk,” said ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner, who argued on Stutzman’s behalf before the Washington Supreme Court in 2016 and who also argued for Phillips before the U.S. Supreme Court. “Rather than respecting her right to peacefully live out her faith, the government targeted her because of her beliefs. Meanwhile, the state has applied its laws unevenly, choosing not to sue a coffeehouse owner who profanely berated and expelled Christian customers, openly mocking their faith in the process. In Masterpiece, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that even a hint of hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society.”

While Ferguson failed to prosecute the coffeehouse, he has steadfastly—and on his own initiative—pursued unprecedented measures to punish 74-year-old Stutzman. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling condemned such one-sided applications of the law against people of faith.

After Ferguson obtained a trial court order allowing him to collect on Stutzman’s personal assets, he publicized a letter offering to settle the case if Stutzman would give up her religious and artistic freedom. Stutzman responded, “It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business and everything else that the state’s lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”

The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling has the effect of requiring Stutzman to pay penalties and staggering attorney fees for honoring her conscience. The court’s new decision doesn’t change that.

“I’m obviously disappointed and upset about today’s ruling,” said Stutzman. “I loved and served Rob for nearly 10 years, and I would serve him for another 10 years. It never mattered to me that he was gay. He enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him. The attorney general has always ignored that part of my case, choosing to vilify me and my faith instead of respecting my religious beliefs about marriage. Now I could lose my business and life savings simply because I declined to celebrate and participate in a sacred event that violates my faith. No artist or creative professional should be forced by the government to create custom work that conflicts with their deeply held beliefs. That’s why I will appeal my case to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The ADF opening brief in State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers and Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowersfiled with the Washington Supreme Court explained that the state shouldn’t punish Stutzman for living out her beliefs. Instead, “there is a better resolution to this case—one that prohibits businesses from refusing to serve customers simply because of who they are, but that protects the conscience rights of people like Mrs. Stutzman who respectfully object to creating custom art for, or personally participating in, ceremonies that violate their religious beliefs. This path is the only one that preserves First Amendment freedoms and protects people with politically unpopular beliefs about important topics like marriage.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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