WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has asked the Washington State Supreme Court to revisit a ruling against a florist who was found guilty of discrimination for providing referrals to a regular customer who wanted her to furnish his same-sex ceremony, directing the court to review the matter in light of the high court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, which found that hostility toward religion unfairly influenced the legal judgment.
The Washington Supreme Court will now need to examine whether or not Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers received a fair trial by the state courts. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled earlier this month in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that decision-makers must be neutral toward religion in contemplating whether or not a violation of the law was committed, not being prejudiced against it.
“As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the Commission’s formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips’ faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy on behalf of the 7-2 majority on June 4.
“The Commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion. Phillips was entitled to a neutral decision-maker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided,” he said.
The court did not reach, however, whether or not business owners may decline to fulfill orders surrounding same-sex events, but said, “The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
The ruling was therefore characterized as “narrow,” which confused some Americans who thought the outcome was a great victory, being 7-2. “Narrow” referred to the scope of the ruling—that the justices did not provide answers to a number of questions surrounding the matter—but only remarked that hostility toward religion can’t cloud legal decisions, and that the issue would have to play out more in the courts.
As previously reported, the Arlene’s Florist case began in 2012 when Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson leveled Stutzman with a lawsuit as he claimed that she violated the law by not fulfilling an order for a 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 Freed.
“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 stated 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 unanimously upheld the lower court ruling in February 2017. Stutzman consequently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully asked the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider Barronelle’s case in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision,” Kristen Waggoner with ADF remarked in a statement on Monday. “In that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court denounced government hostility toward the religious beliefs about marriage held by creative professionals like Jack and Barronelle. The state of Washington, acting through its attorney general, has shown similar hostility here.”
“Barronelle, like Jack, serves all customers but declines to create custom art that expresses messages or celebrates events in conflict with her deeply held religious beliefs. The Washington attorney general’s efforts to punish her because he dislikes her beliefs about marriage are as impermissible as Colorado’s attempt to punish Jack,” she said.
Stutzman also reiterated both in a statement and in video form that Ingersoll was her friend, and she has served him many times—including on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and for birthdays and anniversaries—and would serve him again.
“Rob was my customer and friend for over nine years,” she said. “I knew he was gay, and it was never an issue. I serve everyone. He enjoyed my custom floral designs, and I loved creating them for him. I would gladly serve Rob if he were to come back to my shop today. The attorney general has always ignored that part of my case, choosing to vilify me and my faith instead of respecting my religious beliefs about marriage.”