The case of the 71-year-old Christian florist who denied service for the wedding of a gay couple was heard by the Washington Supreme Court Tuesday.
In the oral arguments, the justices considered whether a ruling in favor of Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers from Richland, could set the precedence for other businesses to refuse service to customers for other reasons like racial discrimination or other forms of discrimination.
"The heart of the case is this, should creative professionals and artists like Baronelle be forced by the government to create custom work for a religious ceremony that specifically violates their religious beliefs under threat of severe punishment," Kerri Kupec, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, told CBN News.
Stutzman was sued by both the Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union after she refused to provide services for the wedding of long-time customer Robert Ingersoll and his partner Curt Freed because it contradicted her religious beliefs.
Ingersoll had sought Stutzman’s services many times in the past, spending a total of almost $4,500 for flowers and flower arrangements from Stutzman’s shop, according to Christian Science Monitor.
Stutzman said she never had a problem with the fact that Ingersoll was gay; in fact, she considered him a dear friend. However, when he approached her to provide the flowers for his wedding, she refused. The fact that the service would be for a same-sex wedding made all the difference to Stutzman, who said she couldn’t do it because it violated her faith.
“If all he’d asked for were prearranged flowers, I’d gladly have provided them. If the celebration were for his partner’s birthday, I’d have been delighted to pour my best into the challenge. But as a Christian, weddings have a particular significance,” Stutzman explained in an article she wrote for The Seattle Times.
“Marriage does celebrate two people’s love for one another, but its sacred meaning goes far beyond that,” she continued. “Surely without intending to do so, Rob was asking me to choose between my affection for him and my commitment to Christ. As deeply fond as I am of Rob, my relationship with Jesus is everything to me. Without Christ, I can do nothing.”
While standing firm on her beliefs, Stutzman found herself in a dilemma as the attorney general and the ACLU not only named her business in the lawsuit but named her as well in a personal capacity. This means she risks losing other assets besides her business to pay for ACLU’s legal fees if she lost the case.
Kristen Waggoner, Stutzman’s lawyer from Alliance Defending Freedom, said the move was meant to “ruin” Stutzman.
“It was to send a message to the [people of] the state and the nation that if you dare to say ‘I refuse to violate my religious faith,’ they will literally put everything you own at risk,” Waggoner said.
Last year, a lower court ruled that Stutzman violated an anti-discrimination law. She was given the choice to either continue her services to same-sex weddings or stop accepting clients for weddings altogether. She chose the latter.
“What our state Supreme Court will decide is whether the government has the power to separate my creativity from my soul – by compelling me to create artistic expressions that celebrate something that goes against my conscience,” Stutzman wrote at The Spokesman Review.
“I respectfully suggest that, even if you don’t agree with my faith, you should still hope I win this case. For your sake, as well as mine – because all of our freedoms are at stake,” she said.