OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington State Supreme Court has stood by its previous decision declaring that a Christian-identified florist unlawfully discriminated against a longtime customer in declining to create arrangements for his same-sex “wedding.” The U.S. Supreme Court had asked the state court to revisit its ruling in light of the Colorado Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, which found that hostility toward religion unfairly influenced the legal judgment.
The Washington State Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Thursday that the judicial system had not “violated the United States Constitution’s [requirement] of religious neutrality” when it issued a decision against Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers.
“We now hold that the answer to the Supreme Court’s question is no; the adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), by declining to sell wedding flowers to a gay couple, and they did not act with religious animus when they ruled that such discrimination is not privileged or excused by the United States Constitution or the Washington Constitution,” wrote Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud.
“[W]e have painstakingly reviewed the record for any sign of intolerance on behalf of this court or the Benton County Superior Court, the two adjudicatory bodies to consider this case. After this review, we are confident that the two courts gave full and fair consideration to this dispute and avoided animus toward religion,” the court concluded. “We therefore find no reason to change our original decision …”
As previously reported, in 2012, Stutzman was approached by one of her faithful customers, Robert Ingersoll, a homosexual, as he wanted her to supply the floral arrangements for his then-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 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 and gave him a hug.
“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 Stutzman’s attorneys contended that Ferguson’s actions were inappropriate since he never received a complaint, but rather filed on his own volition. They 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 2017.
“Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined, in this case — refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding — constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD (Washington Law Against Discrimination),” the court wrote.
Stutzman appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered the state court to revisit its ruling following the issuance of the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision last June.
“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 in the bakery ruling on behalf of the 7-2 majority.
Kennedy and the concurring justices did not reach whether or not a business may decline to fulfill an order that conflicts with the owner’s religious convictions.
However, in reviewing the Arlene’s Flowers case as directed by the nation’s highest court, the Washington Supreme Court said that it didn’t believe the state acted with any animus against Stutzman’s religion, as found in the Masterpiece Cakeshop challenge.
“[A]ssuming that it substantially burdens Stutzman’s religious free exercise, the [Washington Law Against Discrimination] does not violate her right to religious free exercise under either the First Amendment or [the state Constitution] because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves our state government’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations,” the court ruled.
“After careful review on remand, we are confident that the courts resolved this dispute with tolerance, and we therefore find no reason to change our original judgment in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop. We again affirm the trial court’s rulings.”
Stutzman has noted repeatedly 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 in one explanation. “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.”
“I think the worst part is when [people] say that I won’t serve gay people. That’s just not true,” she also remarked in a video posted online. “I’ve never discriminated against anyone in my life.”
Stutzman’s attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) state that they will take the case again to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Barronelle serves all customers; she simply declines to celebrate or participate in sacred events that violate her deeply held beliefs,” Senior Counsel John Bursch said in a statement. “Despite that, the state of Washington has been openly hostile toward Barronelle’s religious beliefs about marriage, and now the Washington Supreme Court has given the state a pass. We look forward to taking Barronelle’s case back to the U.S. Supreme Court.”