Editor’s note: On Nov. 18, 2021, Barronelle Stutzman’s legal journey came to an end.
A settlement agreement secured by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys with the ACLU ended a lawsuit brought against the Washington floral artist nearly a decade ago without forcing her to act against her religious beliefs or to pay potentially ruinous attorneys’ fees—a threat she endured for years. At 77, Barronelle chose to retire so her beloved employees can run her business, Arlene’s Flowers.
Barronelle explained in a letter, printed below, that she is at peace because the settlement allows her to finally retire with her conscience intact, and she knows that the legal effort to protect the artistic freedoms of creative professionals will continue in cases like 303 Creative v. Elenis.
At the time of Barronelle’s settlement, the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet decided to hear 303 Creative, but in the years since, the High Court has heard the case and issued a landmark ruling for free speech. Barronelle’s courageous journey helped lay the foundation that made this victory possible.
Read Barronelle’s letter below, and read about 303 Creative here.
This week, I have put to rest the last legal considerations for a decision my husband, Darold, and I made nearly a decade ago.
It’s hard to believe that so many years have passed since my dear friend Rob came into my flower shop and asked me to do something I’d done many times before: design a unique, personalized arrangement of flowers to celebrate a special event in his life. I had always been delighted with those creative opportunities, just as I’d always been happy to sell him bouquets of flowers. But this time, the special event he was celebrating was his marriage to another man.
And that was a line I could not cross, even for friendship.
I am a Christian, and I believe the Bible to be the Word of God. That Word makes it clear that God loves all people so much that He sent His Son to die in their place. And it also teaches that He designed marriage to be only the union of one man and one woman. I could not take the artistic talents God Himself gave me and use them to contradict and dishonor His Word.
So, as gently as I could, I recommended some other floral artists whom I knew would do a great job for Rob. My decision was not intended to hurt him, but to honor my sincere and deepest beliefs. We hugged and he left and I thought we remained friends who kindly disagreed on an issue deeply important to both of us.
But, as most of you know, that was not the end of it. What followed were lawsuits filed against me and a concerted effort to either force me to change my religious beliefs or pay a devastating price for believing them including being threatened with the loss of my home, my business, and my life savings. The confrontations have led me on a long and winding nine-year journey through the legal system, though it was a journey where Jesus Christ walked with me every step of the way.
Today, that journey ends, and I am at peace. I wish the culmination of all that I’ve been through could result in a new respect, culturally and legally, for freedom of conscience in our country. From the beginning, I have asked no more than the freedom to act in accordance with my religious beliefs and personal convictions. I have treated those who persecuted me with respect, and with the assurance that I want for them the same freedom that I ask for myself.
In the course of my case, I have been blessed with new friendships including with those who have faced the same kind of difficulties I have. They, too, have found themselves in conflict with their own government and society, and with them I have come to see how significant the challenges really are to personal religious freedom in America. I hope my case has helped draw some attention to the danger this growing intolerance poses for all of us.
At one point, those aligned against me suggested that I could keep my shop if I paid a fine and promised to create custom designs for same-sex ceremonies in the future. I refused because I could not betray my conscience. I also worried about what kind of precedent my “paying up” would set for others facing similar circumstances. But I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At age 77, it’s time to retire and give my business to someone else.
So, I’ve paid $5,000 to Rob and am passing my legal torch on to other artists—like Lorie Smith of 303 Creative in Colorado, whose case may well be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this term—and thanking God for the victories He’s so graciously given me.
I’ve never had to compromise my conscience, or go against my faith.
I’ve met so many, many kind and wonderful people, who’ve generously offered me their prayers and encouragement and support. And I’ve been blessed with outstanding attorneys through Alliance Defending Freedom who’ve given me not only their legal skills, but their thoughtful friendship.
Most of all, I’m thankful that God’s love has sustained me through all of the trials and challenges of these last few years. There is a great deal of division at work in our country today, but God has shown me again and again that His love is stronger than the anger and the pain so many are feeling. And He’s given me countless opportunities to share His love with others along the way.
If you’ve prayed for me, thank you. If you’ve hated me, well … I’ve prayed for you. And as my case closes, I pray that God will give you the freedom of your conscience, protect your right to make your own choices, whatever they may be, and give us all grace to be patient, forgiving, and respectful of each other.
And finally, I wish Rob the very best.