In a filing with the Washington state Supreme Court, Barronelle Stutzman, the Christian florist punished for refusing to make an arrangement for a same-sex wedding ceremony, contends the state’s attorney general exhibited hostility toward her both personally and as a representative of state government.
The case against Stutzman launched by Attorney General Bob Ferguson is being reconsidered by the state Supreme Court on order of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued the order after it found that the state of Colorado exhibited hostility toward Masterpiece Cakeshop baker Jack Phillips, who was ordered into a state reindoctrination program for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The opening brief to the state court was submitted on Stutzman’s behalf by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
It contends Ferguson repeatedly, and with hostility, attacked Stutzman, even though the accusing gay customer didn’t file a complaint until much later.
“The attorney general has targeted her because of, and exhibited hostility toward, her religious beliefs about marriage,” the filing states. “He devised an admittedly unprecedented use of [state law] to punish Mrs. Stutzman, while refusing to pursue a Seattle coffee-shop owner who viciously berated and expelled Christian customers because of their religious beliefs.”
The brief said the “unequal treatment, combined with the attorney’s general’s dismissive and derisive comments about Mrs. Stutzman’s faith, leaves no doubt that he has targeted her because of his animus toward her religious beliefs.”
In the Colorado case, the state’s official position of hostility to Christianity, demonstrated by multiple comments from commission members, was key to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to rule in Phillips’ favor.
The commissioners had dismissed requests to punish homosexual bakers who refused to put requested messages on cakes because of their beliefs but aggressively pursued punishment of Phillips.
The brief contends Ferguson is violating Stutzman’s religious rights by requiring her to attend and participate in same-sex weddings.
“The attorney general has targeted her because of, and shown hostility toward, her religious beliefs about marriage — beliefs that the U.S. Supreme Court has described as ‘decent and honorable’ and held ‘in good faith by reasonable and sincere people.’
“Masterpiece held that the government violates the Free Exercise Clause when it exhibits ‘hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs’ of people who cannot in good conscience celebrate same-sex marriages,'” the filing said.
“Where such hostility exists, the state fails in its obligation to act ‘in a manner that is neutral toward religion.'”
The arguments continued: “In Masterpiece, the court found an ‘indication of hostility [in] the difference in treatment between Phillips’ case’ – in which he declind to create a custom wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage – and three other cake artists ‘who objected … on the basis of conscience ‘ to requests for ‘cakes with images that conveyed disapproval of same-sex marriage.’ The government [Colorado] punished Mr. Phillips, but declined to act against other cake artists. That unequal treatment violated the Free Exercise Clause.”
ADF said the attorney general “has exhibited the same unequal treatment here.”
“After learning about Mrs. Stutzman’s religious conflict through media reports, but without any complaint from the individual respondents, the attorney general contacted Mr. Freed to express his concern, sent a letter threatening to sue Mrs. Stuzman, had his office devise a novel way to bring this lawsuit, employed an admittedly unprecedented use of the [state law] to do so, and sued Mrs. Stutzman in her personal capacity.”
But in response to the “gay owner of Bedlam Coffee” who was caught “profanely berating, ejecting and discriminating against a group of Christian customers,” Ferguson merely sent a letter asking for a response, and when nothing was returned, dropped the case, ADF said.
That was a violation of a state law requiring that “all people, regardless of [creed] are to have ‘full enjoyment of any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, or privileges’ of any place of public accommodation.”
The lawyers said: “The attorney general’s crusade against her has never been about neutrally enforcing the law; he has publicly decried the morality of her decision not to celebrate same-sex marriages, labeling it as discrimination that is both ‘illegal – and wrong.’ In other words ,the attorney general ‘passe[d] judgment upon’ and ‘presuppose[d] the illegitimacy of’ Mrs. Stutzman’s ‘religious beliefs and practices.'”
“Barronelle serves all customers; she simply declines to celebrate or participate in sacred events that violate her deeply held beliefs,” said ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner, who argued on Stutzman’s behalf before the Washington Supreme Court in 2016. Waggoner also argued for Phillips before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Despite that, the state of Washington has been openly hostile toward Barronelle’s religious beliefs about marriage,” Waggoner explained. “It not only went after her business but also sued her in her personal capacity – putting all her personal assets, including her life savings, at risk. Rather than respecting her right to peacefully live out her faith, the government has targeted her because of her beliefs. Meanwhile, the state has applied its laws unevenly, choosing not to sue a coffeehouse owner who profanely berated and expelled customers for their Christian beliefs. In Masterpiece, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society. We are asking the Washington Supreme Court to affirm that in this case.”
Ferguson had tried to settle the case by demanding that Stutzman “give up her religious and artistic freedom,” and Stutzman refused.
The state Supreme Court, which earlier had ordered Stutzman to pay penalties and attorneys’ fees “for honoring her conscience,” now must revisit its decision and make it align with the national precedent.
Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, declined to create flower arrangements for the wedding of same-sex couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed because of her religious beliefs.
Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union sued Stutzman after she declined the request of a couple she had served for nearly 10 years. She explained that she had no problem serving them but drew a line at the specific request of using her business and talents to symbolically endorse same-sex marriage.