The nine judges on the Washington state Supreme Court – Mary Fairhurst, Charles Johnson, Barb Madsen, Susan Owens, Debra Stephens, Charles Wiggins, Steve Gonzalez, Sheryl McCloud and Mary Yu – have decided they can order a citizen to violate her Christian faith.
Affirming the aim of "eradicating discrimination," McCloud wrote in her opinion that the state's nondiscrimination law takes precedent over religious belief, even if it "substantially burdens" constitutional, religious, free-exercise rights.
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The case is over Washington floral artist Barronelle Stutzman's refusal to support same-sex "marriage" with her artistry. She was sued by the state for her decision, which was based on her sincerely held religious faith.
Stutzman's advocates immediately announced they will seek a review at the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision "that concluded that the government can force her – and, by extension, other Washingtonians – to create artistic expression and participate in events with which they disagree."
The Richland, Washington, artist is represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom.
"This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist," said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued before the court together with co-counsel George Ahrend in November of last year. "It's wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren't subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees."
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She continued: "Our nation has a long history of protecting the right to dissent, but simply because Barronelle disagrees with the state about marriage, the government and ACLU have put at risk everything she owns. This includes not only her business, but also her family's savings, retirement funds, and home. It's no wonder that so many people are rightly calling on President Trump to sign an executive order to protect our religious freedom. Because that freedom is clearly at risk for Barronelle and so many other Americans, and because no executive order can fix all of the threats to that freedom, we will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and reverse this grave injustice."
It was a lower court in Washington state that ordered her to pay penalties and attorneys fees in the case brought by longtime customer Rob Ingersoll, who wanted her to provide her artistry for a same-sex "wedding."
She declined, instead referring Ingersoll, whom she considers a friend, to other florists.
"Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop all those years ago," said Stutzman. "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.
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"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, which will also harm those who I employ. I'm not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference."
The Washington state Supreme Court said the state's non-discrimination demands can be enforced to benefit homosexuals and harm Christians "because it does not infringe any constitutional protection."
"And assuming it substantially burdrens Stutzman's religious free exercise, the [law] does not violate her right to religious free exercise under either the First Amendment are article 1, section 11, because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves the government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations," the judges claimed.
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The judges noted Stutzman is an "active member of the Southern Baptist church."
"It is uncontested that her sincerely held religious beliefs include a belief that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman."
But that was of no account, they said.
Instead, the judges said what was important was "the 'emotional toll' Stutzman's refusal took on Freed and Ingersoll." The toll was so severe, the opinion said, that "they 'lost enthusiasm for a large ceremony' as initially imagined."
The incident also "caused them to be concerned for their own safety," according to the judges.
Meanwhile, "Stutzman also received a great deal of attention from the publicity surrounding this case, including threats to her business and other unkind messages," they said.
The Family Research Council also sounded off on the opinion, charging the court is trampling "on our nation's long held tradition of respecting the freedom of Americans to follow their deeply held beliefs, especially when it comes to participating in activities and ceremonies that so many Americans consider sacred."
"The court also ignored an opportunity to reaffirm the basic principle that the government may not trample on the constitutional rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion. These rights do not stop at the door of your local church, and instead extend to every area of a religious person's life," FRC said.
"The government has no authority to force Americans like Barronelle Stutzman to engage in speech and events with which they morally disagree.
"Americans were told repeatedly that redefining marriage would have little impact on their lives. Yet now courts are seeking to drive families from their businesses – and now today even their homes as the result of crippling government imposed fines designed to force them to deny their faith. Barronelle knew her customer and friend identified as gay, yet happily served him for years; she just didn't want to be involved in his wedding. But the ACLU and the Washington State government couldn't stand this, and decided to make an example out of her."
The state office of the attorney general first sent her a letter trying to force her to sign away her religious rights, but she refused to sign. Then the fight moved into the courts.
WND reported in November Stutzman's warning that any government that gives itself the authority to order a "small-town florist" to advocate a message that violates her faith isn't going to be satisfied with controlling one "small-town florist."
She pointed out the lower courts ruled that not only was Stutzman liable as a business operator, her personal assets and property also were at risk.
"Does anyone really believe that a government that gives itself the power to force people to believe (and not believe) things and can order artists to create state-sanctioned messages will only use that power to bend one small-town florist to its will – and then leave everyone else alone?" she wrote in a commentary in Spokane's Spokesman-Review newspaper.
"What our state Supreme Court will decide is whether the government has the power to separate my creativity from my soul – by compelling me to create artistic expressions that celebrate something that goes against my conscience."
She predicted what the justices would have to do.
"To enforce that separation, they'll have to violate my constitutional rights to free expression and free exercise of religion. Doing that imposes an unrealistic expectation on what customers can expect from creative professionals … and, in this case, what a friend can ask of a friend," she said.
"Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop. I always thought that must be because Rob 'gets it' – what it means to be a particular kind of artist, working to create beautiful messages through flowers and the talents God has given me. All those years, he always asked for me, when he could easily have gone somewhere else for his arrangements. There was never an issue with his being gay (nor has there been with any of my other customers or employees). He just enjoyed my arrangements, and I loved creating them for him.
"Since I never hid my faith, I always figured Rob understood that my beliefs shape not only how I look at the world, but how I envision and create my art – the art he appreciated for so long. So it wasn't that I wouldn't create something to celebrate his same-sex wedding – I couldn't. This wasn't about selling him flowers, or celebrating a birthday. This involved what, to me, is an event of unique spiritual significance – a sacred covenant. Art, like faith, comes from the heart, from who I am. I couldn't deny my faith – even for so dear a friend – without damaging the very creativity he was asking for."
She said the case reveals the state's intention "to force me to create artistic expressions that violate my deepest beliefs."
She pointed out that what she's seeking is only what the Constitution provides.
During administration of ex-President Obama, officials were trying to force religious believers to violate their beliefs to accommodate “nondiscrimination” laws that give privileges to homosexuals and transgendered persons.
WND reported at that time a federal commission has proposed codifying the discrimination.
Obama even has characterized the Constitution's protections for "freedom of religion" as the seemingly innocuous "freedom of worship."
But Rafael Cruz, the father of one-time GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, has warned that Cuba, even at its most repressive, claimed to allow "freedom of worship."
The author of the book "A Time for Action: Empowering the Faithful to Reclaim America" contends such an interpretation of the Constitution would be devastating for America.
"Most Christians don't realize the danger of freedom of worship," Rafael Cruz said in an interview on "Hagee Hotline" with pastor Matthew Hagee. "Freedom of worship is not the same as freedom of religion. Every communist country around the world has freedom of worship. What freedom of worship means is you can worship inside a house of worship."
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights even lamented back then that there are restrictions on how much government can burden religion.
The agency's recent report, "Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties," gets immediately to the point.
Religion 'infringes' on civil rights
In the first of 306 pages, the "letter of transmittal" to Obama stated at that time, "Religious exemptions to the protections of civil rights based upon classifications such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, when they are permissible, significantly infringe upon these civil rights."
It says the fault lies with the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which "constricts the ability of government actors to curtail private citizens' rights to the protections of nondiscrimination laws and policies."
"Although the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act … limit the ability of government actors to impede individuals from practicing their religious beliefs, religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws and policies must be weighed carefully and defined narrowly on a fact-specific basis," states the letter.
The plan then was that federal legislation "should be considered to clarify that RFRA creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights only for individuals and religious institutions and only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination."
"States with RFRA-style laws should amend those statutes to clarify that RFRA creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights only for individuals and religious institutions. States with laws modeled after RFRA must guarantee that those statutes do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights with status-based discrimination."
'War on religious freedom'
The nonprofit legal group Liberty Counsel called the commission's recommendations "a shocking example of the war against religious freedom in America."
"The commission's report is a shameful anti-American and anti-God document that trashes religious freedom," said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel.
Staver charged that the commission's chairman, Democrat Martin Castro, is "out of touch with reality and with our Constitution."
"He and the other members of the commission who agree with him want to throw out the First Amendment and trash religious freedom whenever faith and practice collides with an intolerant LGBT agenda," Staver said. "The report is a declaration of war against religious freedom. George Washington said anyone who works against the twin pillars of religion and morality cannot be called a 'Patriot.' This report is un-American."
In the Stutzman case, 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]."