A Washington state florist sued by the state’s attorney general over her refusal to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding has filed a countersuit alleging religious discrimination.
Barronelle Stutzman claims the state’s lawsuit violates its own constitution, which guarantees “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief, and worship” and guarantees that “no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion.” Local attorney J.D. Bristol and lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) are representing the 68-year-old owner of Arlene’s Flowers.
Gay couple Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed did business with Stutzman for years but when they asked her to provide the flowers for their wedding, she said she couldn’t because of her relationship with Jesus Christ. Stutzman told the men she believed marriage was between one man and one woman.
When he learned about the situation, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote Stutzman to ask her to reconsider. When she declined, Ferguson filed suit under the state’s consumer protection laws, which ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and charge hefty fines to force compliance.
But the state cannot ask the florist to violate her deeply held religious beliefs, her lawyers contend.
“In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use its intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith convictions,” said ADF senior legal counsel Dale Schowengerdt. “Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs. It is this very freedom that gives America its cherished diversity and protects citizens from state-mandated conformity.”
Stutzman is not accused of refusing to do business with gay customers. But forcing her to use her creative talents to promote something she doesn’t believe in violates her rights, her suit claims.
In addition to the state suit pending against her, Stutzman also faces a civil suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed. That suit demands she start providing flowers for gay weddings, publish an apology in the newspaper, and donate $5,000 to a local youth center.
Stutzman is not the first business owner to face a legal challenge over refusing to perform services for a same-sex wedding. Earlier this year, a gay couple filed a discrimination complaint against a bakery in Portland, Ore., for refusing to make their wedding cake. A retreat house in New Jersey is facing a discrimination lawsuit for refusing to host a same-sex civil-union ceremony. And in New Mexico, a photographer is facing thousands of dollars in fines for refusing to photograph a same-sex ceremony. She has taken her case to the state Supreme Court.