Christian Florist Can Be Sued for Refusing Services to Gay Couple

Barronelle Stutzman


Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently offered Christian florist Barronelle Stutzman three options after she was taken to court for refusing services to a same-sex couple. The three options were to start serving same-sex couples, stop catering to weddings altogether or paying $2,001 in damages and legal fees after a judge ruled last week that she had in fact violated state law by refusing  to cater a same-sex wedding ceremony.

However, 70-year-old Stutzman opted against all of those provisions and sent a letter to Ferguson, saying, “Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about… It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”

Ferguson’s proposal would require Stutzman to agree not to discriminate against any person in the future.

“My primary goal has always been to bring about an end to the Defendants’ unlawful conduct and to make clear that I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” Ferguson said in a statement.

With Stutzman’s business generating three percent of its revenue from catering weddings alone, the Christian florist has planned to appeal against the judge’s ruling.

Kristen Waggoner, the lawyer representing Stutzman, said the settlement offer had to be refused because it required the Christian florist to either give up her freedoms or compromise with her conscience.

“Barronelle has always had the option to just stop doing weddings,” Waggoner said in an email. “The settlement offer offers nothing she hasn’t had the right to do from the beginning. The point is that she must forgo all weddings, the part of her craft that she loves, or violate her conscience.”

Stutzman clarified that she has hired gay employees and sold flowers to any number of gay customers over the years. However, in this situation, her deeply held religious beliefs prohibited her from participating in a same-sex wedding ceremony, which would require her to custom design work to decorate the ceremony, deliver to the forum, stay at the ceremony to touch up arrangements and assist the wedding party.

“I pray that you reconsider your position,” Stutzman said in her letter to Ferguson. “I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case…You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process.”

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A Christian florist in Washington State can now be sued for refusing to provide floral arrangements to a gay couple for their same-sex wedding ceremony, due to her personal religious views that keep her from condoning such a union, ruled a judge earlier this month. Alex Ekstrom, Benton County Superior Court Judge, ruled that Washington State may bring a consumer protection lawsuit against florist Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, Richland, after she was accused of infringing upon the Consumer Protection Act by refusing services to a gay couple, saying their union violated her Christian beliefs.

Ekstrom’s decision means Stutzman stands a high risk of suffering a serious financial hit and even losing her business. Stutzman’s trial date has been set for March 23.

“The clear language of the Consumer Protection Act and state anti-discrimination law supports both corporation and individual liability,” Ekstrom said in explaining his decision.

The Alliance of Defending Freedom (ADF), which is an advocacy group seeking to protect religious expression, filed a motion on behalf of Stutzman, saying the state law does not permit a person to be sued personally for decisions made under business capacity. Additionally, the ADF argued that Stutzman had not discriminated against the customer in question, since she had sold him flowers several times in the past.

“Washington law does not allow someone to attack a business officer personally rather than just sue the business absent such exceptional circumstances as when the officer knowingly engaged in fraud, misrepresentation or theft,” the motion states.

Stutzman was requested in 2012 by Robert Ingersoll, one of her frequent customers, to provide flower arrangements for a wedding ceremony, where he would marry Curt Freed, his long-time partner. Reportedly, Stutzman informed Ingersoll then that she would not be able to follow through with his request, as it conflicted with her deeply-held religious beliefs, which suggest homosexuality is a sin.

“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.

Ingersoll went on to post about the incident on Facebook, after which Stutzman started receiving threatening letters, phone calls and emails from gay rights activists.

“It blew way out of proportion,” Stutzman said. “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 their friends.”

A few weeks after Stutzman refused to provide Ingersoll with flower arrangements, Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent her a letter, saying she must provide services for same-sex marriages, because refusing to do so would mean she is violating the state’s anti-discrimination law. He also told her that if she did not comply with his instructions, he would have to take legal action against her. Yet, Stutzman refused to budge from her stance. Thereafter, two lawsuits were filed against the florist, one from American Civil Liberties Union and another from Ferguson’s office.

The ADF’s motion also claims that Ferguson’s involvement in the matter is unwarranted, as Ingersoll had not filed a complaint against Stutzman before Ferguson charged her with violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.

“This court should reject the Attorney General's illegitimate claim of authority to bring this action,” the motion states. “Accordingly, this court should dismiss the complaint filed by the State of Washington for lack of primary jurisdiction, failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required by law, and lack of standing.”

According to Family Policy Network of Washington, Ekstrom’s ruling means that Washington State can now go after Stutzman’s business assets as well as her personal assets in order to meet attorney fees, if their lawsuit is indeed successful.

“In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not intimidate citizens into speaking and acting contrary to their faith under threat of severe punishment,” Kristen Waggoner, the ADF attorney representing Stutzman, said. “The government is sending a clear message to Barronelle and the people of Washington: Dare to disagree with the government and you put your home, your family business and your life savings at risk.”

Photo Credits: Black Christian News

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