Floral artist asks US Supreme Court to protect her freedom

Barronelle Stutzman goes back to high court after Washington court minimizes previous Supreme Court decision, affirms ruling that threatens to bankrupt her
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

 
WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing floral artist and 74-year-old great grandmother Barronelle Stutzman asked the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday to take her case after the Washington Supreme Court ruled against her in June. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the state high court’s previous ruling against Stutzman and ordered it to reconsider her case in light of last year’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. The state court came back with the same result, repeating verbatim much of what it said in its original decision.

That ruling gives the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to resolve many important legal issues left unanswered after Masterpiece Cakeshop and to reaffirm that the First Amendment protects the freedom of Americans to hold different views about topics as fundamental as marriage.

“Barronelle serves and hires people from all walks of life. What she can’t do is take part in, or create custom floral arrangements celebrating, sacred events that violate her religious 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 and who also argued for Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips before the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop. “Because of this, the Washington Supreme Court upheld a ruling that threatens Barronelle with personal and professional ruin. Regardless of what one believes about marriage, no creative professional should be forced to create art or participate in a ceremony that violates their core convictions. That’s why we have taken Barronelle’s case back to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Washington’s highest court confined the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision by saying that the U.S. Supreme Court’s condemnation of government hostility toward religion applies only to “adjudicatory bodies” and does not apply to executive-branch officials like the Washington attorney general. As ADF attorneys explain in their petition in Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington and Arlene’s Flowers v. Ingersoll, other court decisions say the exact opposite.

The Washington court’s ruling also conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court and other court precedents by allowing the government to force individuals to participate in sacred ceremonies that violate their faith and by empowering state officials to compel artists to create custom work celebrating events to which they object.

“These First Amendment violations must stop,” the ADF petition filed Wednesday states. “Absent this Court’s review, government officials will keep dragging reasonable and sincere people of faith like Barronelle through the courts, imposing ruinous judgments, and barring them from their professions simply because they hold disfavored views about marriage. Religious people should be free to live out their beliefs about marriage. But states like Washington afford that freedom only to people who support same-sex marriage, while stripping it from Barronelle and others like her.” [citations omitted]

In addition to giving the Washington attorney general a pass for religious hostility because he is not a judge, the Washington Supreme Court opinion did not address anything that Masterpiece Cakeshop—and other recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra and Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31—had to say about free speech and expression, ADF attorneys point out. As the petition explains, those opinions provide strong support for Stutzman’s claim that states can’t force creative professionals who serve everyone to participate in and celebrate sacred events that violate their faith.

“This case is an ideal opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm that the First Amendment protects people who continue to believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” said ADF Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “Particularly at a time when society is becoming more confrontational and less civil, it is critical that the courts honor the rights of citizens to speak and act freely, including those who strive to live consistently with their faith.”

In the Masterpiece case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Colorado’s decision to punish Jack Phillips for living and working consistently with his religious beliefs about marriage, just as Stutzman has been trying to do while enduring lawsuits from the Washington attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union. The two sued Stutzman after she declined, because of her faith, to personally participate in—and design custom floral arrangements celebrating—the same-sex wedding of a customer she had served for nearly 10 years.

Rather than take part in an event that violates her faith, Stutzman referred Robert Ingersoll, whom she considers a friend, to several nearby florists. The two then discussed his wedding plans, they hugged, and Ingersoll left. He never filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. The attorney general chose to pursue Stutzman only because of news reports based on social media posts.

As the ADF petition notes, “Barronelle’s compassionate response epitomizes how Americans with differing marriage beliefs can peacefully coexist,” but “the State brought all its power down on Barronelle, seeking to compel her to create art against her conscience. The Attor­ney General concocted a one-of-a-kind lawsuit, prompt­ing others to threaten and harass her. Yet the Attorney General did not investigate, demand assurances, or file suit when a gay coffee-shop owner berated and booted a group of Christians from his store based on religious views they expressed on a public street.”

The petition continues: “Barronelle now stands to lose nearly everything she owns…. Only this Court can resolve the numerous First Amendment conflicts these issues have created, restore the balance that the Constitution requires, and set precedent that will protect people across the political spectrum in present and future cultural debates.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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