OLYMPIA, Wash. — Justices with the Washington State Supreme Court heard on Tuesday the appeal of a florist accused of discrimination by providing a referral for a regular customer’s request for the creation of floral arrangements for his same-sex ceremony rather than fulfilling the order herself.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the court that Baronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers may believe what she wishes in her heart and mind, but cannot live out her convictions when it comes to a public business.
“Ms. Stutzman for her religious expression is free to believe what she wishes,” he argued. “But when she engages in public accommodations and avails herself of the protections and benefits that come with being a business, there are of course responsibilities that flow from that.”
Ferguson compared the situation to being refused to be served at a restaurant.
“I’m Catholic, for example. If I go to a restaurant to celebrate the first communion of my young twins with my wife, the restaurant owner shouldn’t be able to say, ‘I’m sorry, Bob, we do not serve Catholics,'” he said.
But Stutzman’s attorney, Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told the justices that Stutzman does not refuse to serve homosexuals. She rather could not participate in a particular event, and would have been willing to offer flowers in general outside of having to create custom arrangements, which would make her personally involved in the details of the ceremony.
“It’s undisputed that Mrs. Stutzman would be more than happy to sell pre-arranged flowers, flowers out of the cooler,” Waggoner explained. “Anything but the custom arrangement that requires intimate involvement in creating the expression itself.”
Some Christians believe that being a part of a same-sex event violates the biblical command in 1 Timothy 5:22 not to be “partakers in other men’s sins,” as well as the command in Ephesians 5:7, “Be not ye therefore partakers with them.”
As previously reported, Ferguson leveled Stutzman with a lawsuit in 2012 as he claimed that she violated the law by not fulfilling the order for the same-sex event.
Stutzman had been approached by one of her faithful customers, Robert Ingersoll, a homosexual, as he wanted her to supply the floral arrangements for his upcoming ceremony with his partner, Curt.
“We had gone to Arlene’s for many years and enjoyed her service. She did a great job for us, so it was just natural for us to go there to have her do our flowers,” Freed told KUOW radio.
Stutzman 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 could be of assistance.
“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 2015, 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.
A month later, Eckstrom granted summary judgment to Stutzman’s opponents, agreeing that she had committed an act of discrimination. The court also ordered Stutzman to provide full service to same-sex ceremonies, which includes not only accepting the order, but also delivering to the homosexual celebration, and assisting with the specific arrangements and decoration on-site.
She appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, which agreed to take her case in March.
Stutzman has now discontinued offering flowers for any weddings at all.