RICHLAND, Wash. — Attorneys for a Christian florist in Washington have asked a county court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general, which accused her of violating Washington’s anti-discrimination law for declining to help decorate a same-sex “wedding.”
As previously reported, Baronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland was leveled with a lawsuit in March by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who claims that she violated the law by not fulfilling the order. Stutzman had been approached by one of her faithful customers, Robert Ingersoll, a homosexual, as he wanted her to supply the flowers for his upcoming ceremony with his partner, Curt. She states that she politely explained that she would not be able to help in regard to the event.
“I just took his hands and said, ‘I’m sorry. I cannot do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,’” Stutzman told reporters.
After Ingersoll decided to post on Facebook about the matter, controversy arose on both sides of the issue—both for and against Stutzman. The florist said that she received a number of threatening and angry comments.
“It blew way out of proportion,” Stutzman explained. “I’ve had hate mail. I’ve had people that want to burn my building. I’ve had people that will never shop here again and [vow to] tell all their friends.”
Weeks later, Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued Stutzman a letter advising that she must accommodate homosexual ceremonies or be subject to a lawsuit and heavy fines. He included with his letter a form that offered Stutzman the opportunity to recant and agree to comply with the law. She refused, and was subsequently met with a discrimination suit.
But Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona, says that Ferguson’s actions were inappropriate since he never received a complaint, but rather filed on his own volition. It filed a motion on Friday to have the case thrown out.
“This Court should reject the Attorney General’s illegitimate claim of authority to bring this action,” the motion states. “Accordingly, this Court should dismiss the Complaint filed by the State of Washington for lack of primary jurisdiction, failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by law, and lack of standing.”
“The Attorney General’s action here, on behalf of the State of Washington, is based on an unprecedented interpretation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination…and the Consumer Protection Act,” it asserts. “The State’s action goes against the statutes’ specific terms and more than thirty years of prior agency practice by successive Attorneys General.”
ADF has also filed a motion asking that Ferguson and the ACLU—which filed a separate suit—be prohibited from attacking Stutzman on a personal level.
“Washington law does not allow someone to attack a business officer personally rather than just sue the business ‘absent such exceptional circumstances as when the officer knowingly engaged in fraud, misrepresentation, or theft,’” it explains.
“In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith,” Senior Legal Counsel Dale Schowengerdt wrote in a statement announcing the motion. “The attorney general has acted inappropriately by trying to intimidate Barronelle through his lawsuit rather than leaving the process where the law says such matters need to take place.”
“Plenty of other florists are willing to provide flowers for same-sex ceremonies, yet both lawsuits against Barronelle insist on going after not only her business, but going after her personally as well,” he continued. “That’s extraordinary, and we’re asking the court to put a stop to it.”