A Washington state great-grandmother was ordered to pay $1,001 to the state last week for violating its Consumer Protection Act (CPA) when she refused to create a flower arrangement for a long-time customer’s same-sex wedding. The court has yet to impose an award for the gay couple.
Barronelle Stutzman, 70, sold flowers to Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed for more than nine years, and considered Ingersoll a friend. But when he asked her to create the flower arrangements for the couple’s wedding in 2013, Stutzman said she couldn’t because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ.” She referred them to another business for assistance.
The Washington state attorney sued Stutzman for sexual orientation discrimination under CPA. Ingersoll and Freed then filed their own lawsuit against her. A ruling on Feb. 18 settled both suits by summary judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor. The same judge previously ruled both the state and the couple had the right to collect damages not only from Stutzman’s business, but from her personal assets, as well.
The next day, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a press release, publicly offering to settle the case if Stutzman would agree to pay a $2,000 fine for violating CPA, a $1 payment for “fees,” promise not to discriminate in the future, and end the litigation.
In a letter dated Feb. 20, Stutzman declined the attorney general’s offer, stating it revealed he didn’t understand the true meaning behind the two-year-old battle.
“It’s about freedom, not money,” she wrote. “Washington’s constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.’ I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.”
Stutzman wrote that although she didn’t like the idea of potentially losing her business and home through court fines, her “freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”
On March 27, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom issued a decree ordering Stutzman to pay a $1,000 “civil penalty” to the state and $1 in attorneys’ fees. The order also issued a permanent injunction against any “disparate treatment” in offering goods or services to customers due to their sexual orientation.
“All goods, merchandise and services offered or sold by defendants to opposite-sex couples shall be offered or sold on the same terms to same-sex couples, including but not limited to goods, merchandise, and services for weddings and commitment ceremonies,” the judge wrote.
Ekstrom postponed awarding damages to Ingersoll and Freed until after a ruling is made on Stutzman’s appeal. Represented by the ACLU, the men have asked the court to award them attorneys’ fees, costs, and penalties.
“The message sent by the attorney general and the ACLU to the people of Washington is quite clear,” said Alliance Defending Freedom-allied attorney Kristen Waggoner in a statement. “Surrender your religious liberty and free speech rights, or face personal and professional ruin.”
— by Sarah Padbury