KENNEWICK, Wash. — A Christian florist from Washington who is in jeopardy of losing her business, home and life savings after a judge found her guilty of discrimination has been ordered to pay a $1,000 fine to the state attorney general, an order that is stated to be “only the first punch” financially against the business owner.
As previously reported, Baronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland was leveled with a lawsuit March 2012 by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who claimed 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, but referred him to three other florists that may help.
“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.
But 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 the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) contended that Ferguson’s actions were inappropriate since he never received a complaint, but rather filed on his own volition. It also filed a motion asking that Ferguson and the ACLU—which filed a separate suit—be prohibited from attacking Stutzman on a personal level.
In January, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Eckstrom—while throwing out a charge that accused Stutzman of directing her business to violate the state’s anti-discrimination laws—ruled that the florist may be held personally responsible for the incident. The ruling drew concerns that fines could consequently place Stutzman at risk of losing his business, home and/or bank accounts.
Last month, Eckstrom granted summary judgment to Stutzman’s opponents, agreeing that she had committed an act of discrimination. On Friday, he ordered her to pay $1,000 to Ferguson as a civil penalty, and reiterated his initial order that she service same-sex ceremonies.
“Defendants … are permanently enjoined and restrained from violating the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act by discriminating against any person because of their sexual orientation,” Eckstrom wrote.
“All goods, merchandise and services offered or sold 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,” he ordered.
But ADF says that Friday’s order is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Today’s judgment affirms the court’s earlier decision that Barronelle must pay a penalty for her faith and surrender her freedom and conscience,” said Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner in a statement. “The penalty and fees imposed today are only the first punch.”
“The ACLU, on behalf of the same-sex couple also suing Barronelle, has asked the court to award them penalties, fees, and costs, which will financially devastate Barronelle’s business and personal assets—including taking this 70-year old grandmother’s retirement and personal savings,” she explained further. “The message sent by the attorney general and the ACLU to the people of Washington is quite clear: surrender your religious liberty and free speech rights, or face personal and professional ruin.”