WASHINGTON – A floral artist from Washington state asked the U.S. Supreme Court Friday to reverse a decision by the state’s high court which concluded that the government can force her—and, by extension, other creative professionals—to create artistic expression and participate in events with which they disagree.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent the floral artist, Barronelle Stutzman, whom the state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union sued for acting consistently with her faith. ADF attorneys are also asking the high court to consolidate Stutzman’s case with a similar ADF case that the court already accepted, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which involves cake artist Jack Phillips.
“If the government can ruin Barronelle for peacefully living and working according to her faith, it can punish anyone else for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued before the Washington Supreme Court together with co-counsel George Ahrend in November of last year. “The government shouldn’t have the power to force a 72-year-old grandmother to surrender her freedom in order to run her family business. Anyone who supports the First Amendment rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to all of us should stand with Barronelle.”
“Our nation has a long history of protecting the right to dissent, but simply because Barronelle disagrees with the state about marriage, the government and ACLU have put at risk everything she owns,” Waggoner continued. “This includes not only her business, but also her family’s savings, retirement funds, and home. Not only does her case and Jack Phillips’ case involve similar issues, but both Barronelle and Jack face burdensome penalties for simply exercising their right of free expression.”
As the petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington and Arlene’s Flowers v. Ingersoll explains, “The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling is not the first to disavow the First Amendment’s protection of artistic expression and those who create it. See, e.g., Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock…(2014). But the breadth of the court’s reasoning, which extends to nearly all speech created for profit, is particularly hazardous, as is the extreme nature of Barronelle’s punishment, which threatens to shutter her business and personally bankrupt her. This Court’s review is needed to prevent the state from silencing professional speech creators with dissenting religious views.”
The state courts ruled that Stutzman 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, Stutzman referred Rob Ingersoll, whom she considers a friend and had served for nearly 10 years, to several other florists in the area. The two continued to chat about the wedding, they hugged, and Ingersoll left.
“Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop all those years ago,” said Stutzman. “There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn’t been with any of my other customers or employees. He just enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him. But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life’s work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ. I’m not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn’t promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live out my faith without fear of government punishment or interference.”
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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