The first shoe dropped Friday for Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman, who has been convicted by the state in a case brought by the ACLU of discrimination for operating her business according to her Christian faith.
A judge in the state, Alex Ekstrom, announced the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, must pay $1,001 to the state prosecutors who charged her with discrimination for refusing to use her talents to promote same-sex “marriage.”
But the Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Stutzman warned that the precedent, not the dollar figure, is the problem.
Kristen Waggoner, ADF senior counsel, said the award to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson boils down to a government threat to Christians: “Surrender your religious liberty and free speech rights, or face personal and professional ruin.”
Stutzman refused to provide flowers for a same-sex ceremony, which she believes conflicts with biblical teaching. The man who made the request and then filled a complaint was referred to several other willing florists and even was offered free flowers.
Ekstrom’s order, signed Friday, also said the “defendants and their officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and those persons in active concert or participation with them … are permanently enjoined and restrained from violating the Washington Law Against Discrimination.”
That’s the law the state determined must be followed even if it requires someone to violate deeply held religious beliefs.
A handwritten note was added to the judge’s decision stating goods, merchandise and services “including but not limited to goods, merchandise and services for weddings & commitment ceremonies” be offered to homosexuals on the same basis as to man-and-woman couples.
Ekstrom also said the homosexual duo, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, “are entitled to an award of actual damages,” but he reserved determination of the amount until after any appeal has been exhausted.
The judge also said he “retains continuing jurisdiction of this action to enforce the terms of the permanent injunction.”
Waggoner said the judgment Friday “affirms the court’s earlier decision that Barronelle must pay a penalty for her faith and surrender her freedom and conscience.”
“The penalty and fees imposed today are only the first punch,” Waggoner said. “The ACLU, on behalf of the same-sex couple also suing Barronelle, has asked the court to award them penalties, fees, and costs, which will financially devastate Barronelle’s business and personal assets – including taking this 70-year old grandmother’s retirement and personal savings. The message sent by the attorney general and the ACLU to the people of Washington is quite clear: surrender your religious liberty and free speech rights, or face personal and professional ruin.”
WND reported earlier when the state offered to settle its case for $2,001, but Stutzman rejected the offer out of hand. That was after Ekstrom authorized the state and the homosexual plaintiffs to pursue the business and personal assets of Stutzman, including her home, savings and retirement, in payment of damages and attorneys’ fees.
The Alliance Defending Freedom confirmed Ekstrom granted a summary judgment in the case against Stutzman, meaning it will not proceed to trial. A trial had been scheduled for March 23. But ADF said it would be appealed.
Ekstrom also had ruled Stutzman was personally liable for the claims against her.
Then, Ferguson offered through a news release to settle.
Stutzman told Ferguson in a letter posted online: “Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”
She continued: “Washington’s constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.’ I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver.
“That is something I will not do.”
Ferguson did not respond to a WND request for comment.
Stutzman, in her reply to Ferguson, continued: “You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process.”
She wrote: “Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.”
According to arguments in the case, Washington officials believe the state’s statutory protections for homosexuals trump the U.S. Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.
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