The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling against Barronelle Stutzman in Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington and remanded the case back to that court for consideration in light of their recent ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Stutzman, who has run a floral shop in Richland, WA, for 30 years was asked in 2013 by Robert Ingersoll if she would design the followers for his same-sex wedding ceremony. Ingersoll had been a customer of Stutzman for nine years, she respectfully declined the request because of her Christian faith. She referred him to three nearby florists who could. They hugged before she left.
The Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who learned about this through social media, sued her saying she engaged in sexual orientation discrimination under Washington’s anti-discrimination law and consumer protection law. Ferguson never received a formal complaint in the case although Ingersoll and his spouse later sued Stutzman through the ACLU. Stutzman countersued Ferguson and her case eventually went to the Washington Supreme Court who ruled in 2017 against Stutzman saying she had to pay penalties and attorney’s fees.
Ferguson offered to settle for $2001 if Stutzman agreed to provide flowers for same-sex weddings. The ACLU has not offered a settlement.
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The Supreme Court’s ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission featured a similar case where Jack Phillips declined to make a custom cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the seven to two made the following points that have ramifications in Stutzman’s case:
- A rebuke of anti-religious rhetoric that demonstrates bias instead of the neutral application of the law.
- A statement that the presence of double standards indicates that a law is not equally applied and that also demonstrates bias.
“Barronelle, like Jack, serves all customers but declines to create custom art that expresses messages or celebrates events in conflict with her deeply held religious beliefs. The Washington attorney general’s efforts to punish her because he dislikes her beliefs about marriage are as impermissible as Colorado’s attempt to punish Jack,” Kristen Waggoner, Alliance Defending Freedom‘s Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division, said. Waggonner argued on Stutzman’s behalf before the Washington Supreme Court in 2016. Waggoner also argued for Phillips before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully asked the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider Barronelle’s case in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision,” Waggoner explained. “In that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court denounced government hostility toward the religious beliefs about marriage held by creative professionals like Jack and Barronelle. The state of Washington, acting through its attorney general, has shown similar hostility here.”
In fact, Ferguson did not apply Washington’s anti-discrimination law to a homosexual coffee house co-owner berated and refused to serve a Christian customer. While ignoring that case, Waggoner points out, that the Washington State Attorney, on his own initiative, pursued unprecedented measures to punish Stutzman in both a professional and personal capacity.
Ferguson believes the Washington Supreme Court will not change their ruling.
“We expected this procedural step,” Ferguson said in a released statement. “The Washington State Supreme Court now has the job of determining whether the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affects this case. I am confident they will come to the same conclusion they did in their previous, unanimous ruling upholding the civil rights of same-sex couples in our state.”