Washington State Supreme Court: Round II, and Still No Freedom for a Florist and Her Beliefs
It was the second round at the Washington Supreme Court in State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers. And almost a year passed before the Court repeated most of what it said before, which boils down to “no freedom for a florist to live out her faith.”
Instructed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 to revisit its 2017 ruling against Christian florist Barronelle Stutzman, the state high court repeated verbatim much of what it had said two years ago, again stripping away Barronelle’s freedom to live consistently with her faith.
The case—which Alliance Defending Freedom plans to appeal once more to the U.S. Supreme Court—had been sent back to the Washington Supreme Court for review in light of the 7-2 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where Justices reminded government officials that there is no room in the Constitution for government hostility toward religion.
But, from this week’s ruling, it certainly seems that the Washington Supreme Court did not clearly hear the U.S. Supreme Court’s message.
Let’s take a look.
Barronelle Stutzman serves all customers; she simply declines to create custom floral art in the rare cases where celebrating an event or expressing a message conflicts with her deeply held beliefs. Barronelle had served Rob Ingersoll, one of her favorite customers, for nearly 10 years on a multitude of occasions. Sharing a love of flowers, Barronelle considered Rob to be a friend; they both loved flowers, and it certainly didn’t matter to Barronelle that Rob identified as gay. But come 2013, Rob asked her to do one thing she couldn’t: design and create floral arrangements celebrating his same-sex wedding—which for a good customer like Rob, included her attending the ceremony to prepare and tend the floral art. She graciously explained her conflict to Rob; they chatted a while about the pending wedding, and she offered Rob three references to other local floral artists. They hugged, and Ingersoll left.
It should have ended there, but Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the ACLU decided to make an example of the 74-year-old small business owner.
Acting without a complaint from Ingersoll, Ferguson began prosecuting Barronelle, taking unprecedented measures and going after both her business, and Barronelle herself in her personal capacity. Rather than respecting her right to peacefully live out her faith, the government targeted her because of her beliefs.
After Ferguson obtained a trial court order allowing him to collect on Stutzman’s personal assets, he publicized a letter offering to settle the case if Stutzman would give up her religious and artistic freedom. Stutzman responded, “It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business and everything else that the state’s lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”
Yet, rather than respecting Barronelle’s First Amendment freedoms, Ferguson and the ACLU continued to target her, and still going after her personally.
ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner detailed the extent of Washington’s hostility toward Barronelle’s religious beliefs:
The state not only went after Barronelle’s 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 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 Christian customers, openly mocking their faith in the process. In Masterpiece, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that even a hint of hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society.
After the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Barronelle in 2017, she took her case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s when the Court vacated the Washington Supreme Court’s previous ruling against Barronelle and ordered it to reconsider the case in light of Masterpiece.
And now, without even holding oral argument, the state court just issued an opinion which differs little from the one that the Supreme Court already sent back to it. Indeed, it repeated verbatim much of what it said in that prior decision, sidestepping the clear evidence of government hostility against Barronelle for her religious views.
And the Washington Court read the Masterpiece decision far too narrowly, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court’s condemnation of government hostility toward religion applies only to judges and courts, giving government officials like Attorney General Ferguson for their open hostility toward religion.
As ADF attorneys explain, other U.S. Supreme Court decisions say the exact opposite. To put it simply, the First Amendment protects religious exercise from hostility by the government—be it federal, state, or local—and certainly applies to a state attorney general.
In its ruling, the Washington Supreme Court opinion also disregarded recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding free speech in the face of government coercion. In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra and Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, the U.S. Court stated forcefully that the government cannot force people—such as creative professionals who serve everyone—to celebrate events or express messages that violate their faith.
Alliance Defending Freedom will now ask the U.S. Supreme Court to again take on Barronelle’s case. ADF Senior Counsel John Bursch explained:
If today’s decision were to stand, it wouldn’t just put Barronelle’s flower shop out of business, it would cost Barronelle every penny she has earned and saved over a lifetime. And it would cost millions of Americans our country’s promise of freedom from government coercion.
These are just some of the many reasons we will be appealing Barronelle’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court. There should be room in the marketplace for people of good will on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue.
Barronelle would happily serve Rob if he came back into her store. She serves all of her customers, but just like Jack Phillips, there are certain messages that she cannot in good conscience create.
Views about important issues like marriage change. But the First Amendment’s enduring promise is that people of good will are free to live out their beliefs without government hostility or punishment.
As Barronelle put it:
This case isn't just about me. It’s about everyone’s freedom to live their beliefs without fear of government punishment. If the government can tell you what events you must celebrate and take all you own if you decline to violate your faith… then we don’t live in a free America. Wherever you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, we can all agree to stand for freedom.