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Supreme Court vacates ruling against florist

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated a Washington state ruling Monday (June 25) against Barronelle Stutzman, a florist who declined to design arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

The U.S. Supreme Court instructed the Washington court it to reconsider Barronelle Stutzman’s lawsuit in light of the recent decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

In Masterpiece case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Colorado’s decision to punish cake artist Jack Phillips for living and working consistently with his religious beliefs about marriage. The Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Comission had shown hostility toward religion in that case.

Stutzman’s attorneys argued that the First Amendment prevents government from forcing Americans to use their creative talents to express messages, such as same-sex marriage

In 2013, a long-time customer Rob Ingersoll, whom Stutzman considered to be a friend, asked her to create a floral arrangement for his same-sex wedding.

Stutzman declined because her Christian belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman prevented “her from using her artistic talents to promote contrary ideas about marriage.” Instead, she referred him “to three other floral design artists who she knew would do a good job.”

The customer then filed suit against Stutzman and was joined by the State of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent both Stutzman and Phillips.

“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,” said Waggoner, who 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.”

Waggoner points out that Ferguson failed to prosecute a business that berated and discriminated against Christian customers. In contrast, however, Ferguson has steadfastly—and on his own initiative—pursued unprecedented measures to punish 73-year-old Stutzman not just in her capacity as a business owner but also in her personal capacity, threatening her personal assets, including her life savings. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling condemned those sorts of one-sided, discriminatory applications of the law against people of faith.

After Ferguson obtained a court order allowing him to collect on Stutzman’s personal assets, he publicized a letter offering to settle the case for $2,001. In exchange, he demanded that Stutzman give up her religious and artistic freedom.

“It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important,” said Stutzman.

The Washington Supreme Court later ruled in State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers that Stutzman must pay penalties and attorneys’ fees for declining to design custom floral arrangements celebrating Ingersoll’s same-sex ceremony.

The Washington ruling also upholds the lower court decision making Stutzman personally liable, putting the 72-year-old grandmother in jeopardy of losing all business and personal assets except her home.

— CNJ staff report

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