A grandmother and owner of a small-town flower shop who refused to create arrangements for a same-sex wedding is continuing to defend her livelihood against an attack by the ACLU and the state of Washington.
Attorneys representing 70-year-old Barronelle Stutzman filed a 78-page legal brief Friday with the Washington Supreme Court that answers arguments and allegations by the ACLU and the state.
The two plaintiffs sued Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, for acting in accordance with her faith by not providing flowers for a same-sex wedding last year.
ADF attorneys asked the state high court to take up the case last June after a lower court ruled that Stutzman must pay penalties and attorney fees for declining to use her artistic abilities to design floral arrangements for a same-sex ceremony. Rather than participate in the ceremony, Stutzman referred the customer, whom she considers a friend and had served for nearly 10 years, to other florists in the area who would provide quality arrangements and wedding support.
Her attorney, ADF senior counsel Kristen Waggoner, said a lot is riding on the outcome of this case, not only the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment but free expression as an artist.
Floral arrangers, photographers, even cake makers are all artists.
“Barronelle and many others like her around the country have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages,” said Waggoner. “No one should be faced with a choice between their freedom of speech and conscience on one hand and personal and professional ruin on the other.”
Stutzman said the state attorney general’s office offered to drop the case against her if she would just agree to serve same-sex wedding ceremonies. She has a lot to lose, but won’t give up the fight.
“No. It’s not about the money. It’s about freedom,” she told Fox News recently. “It’s about our eight kids and our 23 grandchildren and now. You can’t buy my freedom. There’s not a price on freedom. It’s me now, but tomorrow it’s gonna be you. You gotta wake up.”
Watch full interview with Barronelle Stutzman:
The attorney general has also indicated the state could come after Stutzman’s personal assets if she loses the case.
“They talked about bullying me into doing something that is against my faith. They can’t do that,” she said. “They can get rid of me, but they can’t get rid of God.”
She said she believes Americans oppose unjust government actions that strong-arm citizens to create artistic expressions against their will.
ADF’s newly filed brief says the case boils down to the issue of tolerance. Just how “tolerant” is American society in the age of Obama?
“Is there room in our tolerant, diverse, and freedom-loving society for people with different views about the nature of marriage to establish their ‘religious (or nonreligious) self-definition in the political, civic, and economic life of our larger community…?’ The trial court’s and [the state’s and the ACLU’s] answer is ‘no.’ Their view is that those who seek to establish their self-identity based on the millennia-old view that marriage is solely between a man and a woman may be coerced by law to express different views or be silenced. This is contrary to the best of our historical and constitutional traditions, which mandate that citizens who hold non-majoritarian views be given room to express them and not be coerced, punished, and marginalized through force of law.”
According to the ACLU and state of Washington, the views to be tolerated are those that align with the state, at least when someone decides to act on their views. But if that is indeed the new standard, that anyone can have any religious view as long as it stays in the four walls of their home or church, then it sends a chilling message to everyone.
What, for instance, happens if a homosexual print-shop owner is asked to print up T-shirts with a slogan like, “Marriage is between a man and a woman,” for a religious rally?
The brief continues:
“The trial court’s and [the state’s and the ACLU’s] view—that there can never be a free speech exception to public accommodation laws—endangers everyone. If correct, then the consciences of all citizens are fair game for the government.”
“Nor could an atheist painter decline to paint a mural celebrating the resurrection of Christ for a church,” the brief states.
“Indeed, no speaker could exercise esthetic or moral judgments about what projects to take on where a customer claims the decision infringes on his or her rights under the WLAD [Washington Law Against Discrimination].”
The brief argues that the state is not neutral in the way it applies the law.
“People in creative professions regularly have to make decisions about where they lend their artistic talents and the events in which they will participate,” Stutzman said. “For me, it’s never about the person who walks into the shop, but about the message I’m communicating when someone asks me to ‘say it with flowers.’ The government should respect everyone’s freedom — including our artistic freedom and core religious beliefs about marriage — and not force us to create expression that violates our conscience.”
Stutzman has said her decision had nothing to do with any animosity toward homosexuals. She has hired homosexual staff, and she has served homosexuals with flower arrangements. She simply drew the line at providing a creative service to a same-sex “wedding” ceremony because she said she felt that “would not honor Christ.”