Wash. grandmother’s home, livelihood, freedom at stake
OLYMPIA, Wash. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a brief Monday with the Washington Supreme Court asking it to take up the case of Barronelle Stutzman, a floral artist whom the state and the American Civil Liberties Union sued for acting consistently with her faith.
ADF filed notices of appeal in April on behalf of Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, after a lower state court ruled that she must pay penalties and attorneys’ fees for declining to use her artistic abilities to design custom floral arrangements for a long-time customer’s same-sex ceremony. Rather than participate in the ceremony, Stutzman referred the customer, whom she considers a friend and had served for nearly 10 years, to several other florists in the area who would provide high-quality arrangements and wedding support.
“Americans oppose unjust laws that strong-arm citizens to create expression against their will,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “Barronelle and numerous others like her around the country have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages. No one should be faced with a choice between their freedom of speech and conscience on one hand and personal and professional ruin on the other.”
“Direct review is warranted because the Superior Court’s ruling has broad import, misconstrues the WLAD [Washington Law Against Discrimination] and impairs the exercise of state and federal constitutional rights,” the ADF brief explains. “The Court held that the State may force Barronelle to choose between engaging in compelled expression celebrating an event that violates her religious faith or foregoing the wedding design work she has loved for forty years. The Court also found that she faces personal liability for her decision.”
“People in creative professions regularly have to make decisions about where they lend their artistic talents and the events in which they will participate,” Stutzman said. “For me, it’s never about the person who walks into the shop, but about the message I’m communicating when someone asks me to ‘say it with flowers.’ We should all have artistic freedom and the right to disagree without one side of a conversation being threatened by the government.”
“Government is supposed to protect freedom, not intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith and conscience,” added ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “The two lawsuits have the potential to financially devastate Barronelle’s business and personal assets – including taking this 70-year old grandmother’s retirement and personal savings – simply for acting in accordance with her faith. We hope the Washington Supreme Court will review this case not only because of the important legal and constitutional implications, but also because of the devastating impact the lower court’s ruling has on Barronelle.”
Washington attorneys George Ahrend, John Connelly, and Alicia M. Berry are also counsel of record in the lawsuits, State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers and Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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