The Washington Supreme Court has agreed to review the case against a florist who was penalized for following her Christian faith and refusing to support a “gay wedding” with her artistic talent.
The brief order from the Supreme Court of Washington was signed by Barbara Madsen, the chief justice, and said tersely that the court would “retain this case for hearing and decision.”
The fight involves penalties that the state is imposing on Barronelle Stutzman, a longtime florist who was accused of discrimination when she declined to violate her Christian faith and provide her artistic talents for the same-sex “wedding” being planned by a longtime customer.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is working on court on behalf of Stutzman, explained at issue are the penalties and attorneys’ fees a lower court ordered her to pay “for declining to use her artistic abilities to design custom floral arrangements for a longtime customer’s same-sex ceremony.”
The lower courts ruled that not only was Stutzman liable as a business operator, but her personal assets and property also were at risk.
Stutzman had referred the customer, Rob Ingersoll, to several other florists who would provide him with quality products and services.
She considered him a friend at the time, having done business for many years, and still does, she wrote in a recent commentary in a Seattle newspaper.
“As a Christian, weddings have a particular significance. Marriage does celebrate two people’s love for one another, but its sacred meaning goes far beyond that. Surely without intending to do so, Rob was asking me to choose between my affection for him and my commitment to Christ. As deeply fond as I am of Rob, my relationship with Jesus is everything to me. Without Christ, I can do nothing.”
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She continued, “I’ve never questioned Rob’s and Curt Freed’s right to live out their beliefs. And I wouldn’t have done anything to keep them from getting married, or even getting flowers. Even setting aside my warm feelings for them, I wouldn’t have deliberately taken actions that would mean the end of being able to do the work I love or risk my family’s home and savings.
“I just couldn’t see a way clear in my heart to honor God with the talents He has given me by going against the word He has given us.”
She wrote, “I sold flowers to Rob for years. I helped him find someone else to design his wedding arrangements. I count him as a friend. I want to believe that a state as diverse as Washington, with our long commitment to personal and religious freedoms, would be as willing to honor my right to make those kinds of choices as it is to honor Rob’s right to make his.”
“Barronelle and many others like her around the country have been willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “We hope the Washington Supreme Court will affirm the broad protections that both the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution afford to freedom of speech and conscience.”
“No one should face personal and professional ruin simply for exercising these foundational freedoms,” added ADF Senior Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Americans clearly oppose unjust government actions that force people to create expression against their will.”
The same issue has erupted all across America, and, in fact, around the world. Bakers, photographers and venue owners are facing penalties and punishment from various U.S. governments for following their Christian faith.
In the United Kingdom, a family that owned a bakery was ordered penalized for refusing to violate its faith and promote same-sex “marriage,” a decision that was put on hold when a government lawyer intervened amid speculation that the anti-discrimination laws being used for the prosecution actually violate international human rights protections.
In the Stutzman case, the ADF explained, “The case boils down to this question: 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….’ 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.
“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,” the brief continued. “If correct, then the consciences of all citizens are fair game for the government. No longer could a gay print shop owner decline to print shirts adorned with messages promoting marriage between one man and one woman for a religious rally. Nor could an atheist painter decline to paint a mural celebrating the resurrection of Christ for a church. 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 ADF’s logic is being challenged by no less than Barack Obama.
The president, who has been trying to reframe the Constitution’s protection of religious rights to the narrower “freedom to worship” rather than “freedom of religion.” went a step further in an address to a homosexual festival.
He said at the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Gala in New York that the Constitution’s protections for “gay” rights trump the protection for religious rights.
“We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions,” he said. ‘But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights.”
Obama said that “even as we are respectful and accommodating of genuine concerns and interests of religious institutions, we need to reject politicians who are supporting new forms of discrimination as a way to scare up votes.”
The conflict was exacerbated when the Supreme Court last June created a right to “same-sex marriage,” overturning the votes of people in a majority of states.
The Obergefell opinion, in a narrow 5-4 vote, included a perfunctory acknowledgement of the constitutional free exercise of religion.
However, in practice, religious rights are succumbing to the “right to gay marriage,” as illustrated in the case of Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk Kim Davis.
A federal judge jailed Davis for six days after she refused to follow his order to violate her Christian faith and to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Obama, at the “gay” festival, also quoted Harvey Milk – a San Francisco city official whose biography describes how he had a penchant for sex with young boys – as a hero of the movement.
“Harvey Milk once said, ‘If a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.’ But to those of us who’ve made it through those doors, we’ve got a unique obligation to reach back and make sure other people can make it through those doors, too,” Obama said.
“We have a responsibility to stand up to bigotry not just against us, but against anybody, anywhere. We have a responsibility to stand up for freedom – not just our own freedom, but for everybody’s freedom. We speak up to condemn hatred against anybody – gay or straight, black or white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, non-believer, immigrant because we remember what silence felt like when hatred was directed at us, and we’ve got to be champions on behalf of justice for everybody, not just our own.”