KENNEWICK, Wash. — Over $100,000 has been raised in an online campaign for 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 for declining to service a same-sex ceremony for a regular client.
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, 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 her business, home and/or bank accounts.
In February, Eckstrom granted summary judgment to Stutzman’s opponents, agreeing that she had committed an act of discrimination. Last month, he ordered her to pay $1,000 to Ferguson as a civil penalty, a punishment that is stated to be “only the first punch” financially against the business owner since Eckstrom found that Stutzman may be required to pay damages and attorney’s fees to Ingersoll and his partner, which will be far more costly.
As of Monday, fundraising efforts for Stutzman had exceeded $100,000, which is stated to be the original fundraising goal on GoFundMe. The campaign had been launched in late February by attorney and friend Tom Savage.
“The highest priority is to protect Barronelle and her livelihood,” the page reads. “The funds will either be paid directly to Barronelle, a trust established to assist Barronelle, or a non-profit organization that will hold the funds to assist Barronelle and those in similar circumstances.”
Ferguson had offered to settle the matter if Stutzman agreed not to decline orders for same-sex ceremonies in the future, but she declined, stating that she could not betray God like Judas.
“Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about,” Stutzman responded. “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.”
“Washington’s Constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.’ I cannot sell that precious freedom,” she continued. “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.”