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The Friendship at the Center of a Religious Freedom Battle

By Tori Colgan posted on:
October 24, 2019

How do a small-town florist and an attorney become close friends? Such a friendship may seem unlikely, but not when both women share the same faith in Jesus Christ. Barronelle Stutzman and Kristen Waggoner began as a client and an attorney—but they have grown to be good friends.

Barronelle Came Under Attack for her Religious Beliefs

Barronelle Stutzman has been a floral artist for over forty years in the state of Washington. Working in Arlene’s Flowers with her mother gave her a love for building masterful floral arrangements and celebrating her customers’ special occasions.

One of her favorite parts about being a florist is the relationships she builds with her customers. Barronelle loves having the opportunity to use her gifts to serve them for personal and meaningful occasions.

For decades, Barronelle lived a quiet life serving the river port town of Richland, Washington. But six years ago, everything changed.

In 2013, Barronelle’s longtime customer and friend, Rob Ingersoll, paid a visit to Arlene’s Flowers. Rob asked Barronelle if she would be the florist for his upcoming same-sex wedding. Barronelle tenderly explained that she could not participate in his wedding because of her Christian beliefs. She cared about Rob deeply, but she could not use her art to celebrate an event that so directly violated her religious convictions.

Barronelle recalls this conversation. “One of my favorite customers, Rob Ingersoll, walked into the store,” she said. “I didn’t want to hurt Rob’s feelings, and I wanted to tell him as gently as possible … I took his hand in mine and told him I could not do his wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

“We chatted as we always had,” Barronelle continued. “We talked about his mom walking him down the aisle, how he got engaged; then Rob asked me to recommend another florist. And I recommended three that I knew would do him a good job. We hugged each other and Rob left. I was so thankful that Rob had graciously accepted my explanation, and that we had parted as friends.”

Countless people of good will—from faith traditions as diverse as Islam and Christianity—believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Yet the ACLU, along with the Washington Attorney General, have sued Barronelle both as a business owner and as an individual. Barronelle now risks losing everything she owns – her job, her flower shop, and even her life’s savings.

But through it all, Barronelle has stood strong. And her faith and resilience has inspired many—including the very woman who is defending her freedom in court.

Kristen Answered an Urgent Calling

When Rob and Barronelle were having the conversation about his wedding in Arlene’s Flower shop, attorney Kristen Waggoner was working as a partner at a law firm in the same state. Kristen enjoyed her practice and her firm and had opportunities to make important contributions to issues she cared about.

But when news broke about the lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers, Kristen felt an urgent need to be involved with this important case. Initially, she helped ADF in the background as an allied attorney, but she felt God was urging her to step out of her comfort zone at the firm and join the team full-time at Alliance Defending Freedom.

Though Barronelle did not know it yet, her grace towards her opposition and her faith in Christ changed Kristen’s life.

Today, Kristen and many others at ADF are still defending Barronelle’s right to freely live out her faith, while Barronelle continues to inspire everyone to stand up for what is right. And what started as just an attorney-client relationship has blossomed into a vibrant friendship—one that both of these women treasure deeply.

In September, ADF asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Barronelle’s case for the second time. If the court decides to hear the case, Kristen and the ADF team will have another chance to defend Barronelle’s freedom.

Watch more about their friendship here:

Tori Colgan

Tori Colgan

Direct Response Program Manager

Tori has a passion for creatively engaging others in advocating for domestic and international religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family.

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