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Like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman Is a Victim of State Hostility toward Religion

By Maureen Collins posted on:
June 25, 2018

If you were appalled by the government’s hostility towards Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, you need to read about the case of Barronelle Stutzman.

On June 25, the Supreme Court sent Barronelle’s case, Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, back to the Washington Supreme Court to be reconsidered in light of its decision in Masterpiece. In Masterpiece, Justice Anthony Kennedy made it clear that government hostility toward religion is unacceptable.

Jack’s case began all the way back in 2012 when a same-sex couple came into his shop and asked him to create a cake for their wedding. Because of his Christian convictions about marriage, Jack politely declined to design such a cake but offered to sell the two men anything in his shop or create a cake for another event. Jack serves everyone, but he cannot celebrate every event or express every message.

In response, the couple filed a discrimination claim with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The Commission ruled that Jack must design cakes for same-sex weddings if he does so for marriages between one man and one woman – or he must get out of the wedding business entirely, which amounted to 40 percent of his business. They also ordered Jack to “reeducate” his employees and file quarterly reports listing every cake he declines to create.

Throughout the process, the Commission was blatantly hostile to Jack’s Christian beliefs—one commissioner called Jack’s religious freedom claim a “despicable piece[] of rhetoric” and compared his efforts to protect his freedom to arguments raised by Nazis and slaveholders. Justice Kennedy criticized this type of hostility to religion, arguing that it violated Jack’s right to “neutral and respectful consideration” by the government.

Anti-religious hostility also exists in Barronelle’s case.

Barronelle is a floral artist who has owned and operated her own flower shop for decades. Over the course of nearly 10 years, the 73-year-old grandmother designed numerous floral arrangements for her long-time customer and friend, Rob Ingersoll. Barronelle knew Rob was in a same-sex relationship, and had designed floral arrangements for him for a number of different occasions.

One day, one of Barronelle’s employees told her that Rob had been at the shop, looking for her, because he wanted her to create the floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding. After some prayer and reflection, Barronelle ultimately decided that because of her Christian beliefs about marriage, she could not in good conscience celebrate that particular event with her artistic talents. When he returned to the store, she took his hand in hers, explained how much she cared about him, told him that she couldn’t help with his wedding because of her religious beliefs, and referred him to three other florists that she knew would do a good job. Rob was understanding, and the two hugged before he left.

Rob and his partner, Curt Freed, did not file a complaint with the Washington government. Instead, the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson found out about the story through Facebook and decided to take matters into his own hands.

The attorney general not only went after Barronelle’s business but also sued her in her personal capacity—so Barronelle is at risk of losing her home and retirement in this lawsuit.

As Barronelle’s attorney, ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, put it: “[It] takes a special kind of focused hostility to target this woman, to relentlessly pursue her business and personal assets, all for the purpose of making an example of her. Yet that’s exactly what the State of Washington is doing.”

Shockingly, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Barronelle in a 9-0 decision, saying that she had discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation.

But just like Jack, Barronelle does not discriminate. Her friendship with Rob is definitive proof of this. “I think the worst part is when they say I won’t serve gay people,” said Barronelle, “That’s just not true. I’ve never discriminated against anyone in my life.”

Today, the Washington attorney general said in a statement after the Supreme Court’s ruling that he was “confident” the Washington Supreme Court would come to the same conclusion about Barronelle’s case, even in light of Masterpiece.

But remember this: the attorney general has gone after this grandmother with the full force of the law, for everything she owns, simply because she declined to celebrate an event that violates her faith. If that’s not government hostility, then what is?

Maureen Collins

Maureen Collins

Web Writer

Maureen has a passion for writing and her work has appeared on The Federalist.

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