Originally published in Catholic News Agency
A Washington florist fined for not serving a same-sex wedding out of conscience says the state’s Supreme Court “violated” her freedoms by ruling against her on Thursday last week.
“What the court decided was that now the government has the power to separate me from my livelihood and my faith,” Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, told CNA in an interview.
“They’re trying to compel me to design something that goes totally against my personal conscience, and they violated my right to free speech and expression.”
Sued for declining to assist with same-sex wedding
Stutzman, sued by the state of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, lost her appeal at the state’s Supreme Court on Thursday last week. She says she declined to serve a long-time customer’s wedding because of her Christian beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.
The court had upheld a lower court’s decision, which ruled that Stutzman violated the state’s law barring discrimination on basis of sexual orientation. The lower court ordered her to pay a fine and legal costs, which stand because of last week Thursday’s decision. Stutzman will appeal her case to the US Supreme Court.
In the 24 hours since the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, Stutzman admitted she has received both calls of support and “hate calls.” Her faith, she said, “just increases day by day,” however.
Although the court ruled that she violated an anti-discrimination law, Stutzman said she still serves gay and lesbian customers and had a 10-year friendship with Rob, the man whose wedding she would not serve.
“It’s not about discrimination at all. Rob was one of my favourite customers,” she said. When he approached her at the shop to ask her to serve his wedding and she declined, “we talked about his mom walking him down the aisle, and we talked about his marriage, and I recommended three other florists to him and we hugged each other and Rob left,” she recalled.
“I love working with Rob, and I would be so excited if he just came back into my shop today and I could wait on him for another ten years. I really miss him.”
Stutzman said she has not had contact with Rob recently other than seeing him at court, and the last personal contact was at the deposition where they hugged and talked. She has received support from other gay and lesbian customers to act according to her beliefs, she said.
Now Stutzman’s livelihood is threatened, as she is liable for the state’s fines and the legal costs were estimated to top $2 million by the end of the case.
ACLU fighting other religious freedom appeals
Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom who argued Stutzman’s case before the Washington Supreme Court, said that the American Civil Liberties Union is actively fighting other religious freedom appeals throughout the country.
“They are not about protecting freedom. They are about taking it away from those who don’t share their ideology and their radical beliefs,” she said.
“Civil liberties travel together,” she insisted, explaining that countries where freedom of religion is threatened “have less freedom in many other areas as well.”
“We know that this right that’s at issue in Barronelle’s case is essential to having a just and inclusive and a stable America. And we all need to stand for that,” Waggoner said.
President Donald Trump promised in 2015 to “preserve and protect our religious liberty” as a “first priority” in his administration, Waggoner noted, and he must sign an executive order establishing broad religious freedom protections for individuals and religious organisations.
Although a federal order would not affect Stutzman’s case at the state level, it would still be “a sign and good first step to restore balance and to show the states that this needs to be done,” she insisted.
Stutzman hopes her case “speaks in volumes” that “it’s not just my freedom, it’s everybody’s freedom, whether you’re religious or not” that is at stake.
“Rob has the freedom to act on what he believes about marriage and I’m just asking for the same,” she said.