A florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding is appealing her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming she is being financially ruined simply for practicing her faith.
In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, refused to provide a floral arrangement for Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, who had been loyal customers for nearly a decade. She cited her “relationship with Jesus Christ” and insisted it would be tantamount to condoning their wedding.
Represented by the ACLU, Freed and Ingersol sued Stutzman for violating the state’s anti-discrimination laws. In 2015, they won their case and Stutzman was ordered to pay a $1,00 fine plus $1 for court costs.
“Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop all those years ago,” she maintained. “There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees. He just enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him. But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings.”
Stutzman appealed but, this February, the state Supreme Court unanimously upheld the earlier ruling, finding that floral arrangements do not constitute free speech and providing flowers to a same-sex wedding is not an endorsement of marriage equality or homosexuality.
“As Stutzman acknowledged, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam,” wrote Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud. “Nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism.”
McCloud added, “This case is no more about the access to flowers than civil rights cases were about access to sandwiches.”
The right-wing Christian legal outfit Alliance Defending Freedom has been representing Stutzman, who they’ve labeled a “floral artist,” rather than a florist, to work the “artistic expression” angle.
“If the government can ruin Barronelle for peacefully living and working according to her faith, it can punish anyone else for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner this week in a statement. “The government shouldn’t have the power to force a 72-year-old grandmother to surrender her freedom in order to run her family business.”
Waggoner argues that Stutzman’s business has been jeopardized “simply because [she] disagrees with the state about marriage.”
The ADF is hoping the Supreme Court will consolidate Stutzman’s case with that of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, who refused to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012. The Alliance is also representing Phillips, whose case is already slated to go before the high court.
In a recent closed-door meeting, Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the ADF and promised to do more to secure religious freedom.