Vt. government ends religious persecution of family business, admits Wildflower Inn acted in good faith

State human rights commission, ACLU finally call off attack on small bed-and-breakfast
Thursday, August 23, 2012

LYNDONVILLE, Vt. — A family-owned and -operated bed-and-breakfast has agreed to a settlement with the Vermont Human Rights Commission and two women who wanted to have a same-sex wedding reception at the inn’s privately owned property. The settlement affirms that the Wildflower Inn acted in good faith in the administration of its business.

“Every American should be free to live and do business consistent with their deeply held beliefs,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Byron Babione. “It is unfortunate when a state agency teams up with the ACLU to harass and punish a private family business over its owners’ constitutionally protected thoughts and beliefs. Legal attacks like this one are not pursuits for justice, but attempts to coerce and police private expression.”

A former Wildflower employee sparked the lawsuit when she falsely claimed that the inn would not allow a same-sex reception and then betrayed her employer by offering the potential clients event services through her personal business. The inn’s actual business practice, which the Vermont Human Rights Commission approved in 2005, was to honestly disclose its owners’ religious convictions to potential customers while agreeing to serve everyone in accordance with the law.

Despite the business’s good faith actions, its assurance that it will follow the law, and the fact that it stopped hosting wedding events of any kind three months before the lawsuit even began, the persecution of the Wildflower Inn continued. The government and the ACLU demanded that the inn pay $10,000 to the commission and $20,000 into a charitable trust set up by the plaintiffs. The inn agreed to make these payments to end this ordeal and the threat that the litigation posed to the owners’ and their employees’ livelihood.

The ACLU of Vermont filed Baker v. Wildflower Inn in Vermont state court in July 2011 on behalf of the same-sex couple. The commission moved to intervene in October 2011. Counsel for the commission also serves as its executive director and is on the board of the ACLU of Vermont.

The family business has relied for many years on a 2005 commission finding that there were “no reasonable grounds to believe that Wildflower…illegally discriminated” in its practices or policies. That decision came after a woman who asked to have a same-sex ceremony at the inn complained to the commission because the owner, while stating that the inn would host her event, shared with her that he was a Roman Catholic who accepted biblical teaching about marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.

“The Wildflower Inn has always served--and will continue to serve--everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage,” said Wildflower Inn owner Jim O’Reilly. “Our beliefs haven’t changed, but we do have lives to live, a family to love, a business to grow, and a community to serve. Small businesses like ours cannot match the limitless resources of the government and the ACLU. Ongoing litigation like this can cripple any small business and the livelihood of its owners, so we’re relieved to put this ordeal behind us.”
  • Timeline: Baker v. Wildflower Inn
  • Pronunciation guide: Babione (BABB’-ee-own)
Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
# # # | Ref. 34990