A Christian florist who was sued and found guilty of discrimination after refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding is continuing her fight for a religious accommodation, with the Washington Supreme Court recently agreeing to hear her case.
So, what’s the legal battle all about?
In essence, it’s yet another effort to strike a balance between the rights of religious wedding vendors and those of gays and lesbians seeking out said services. From scenarios involving bakers to photographers to florists, these legal conundrums continue to unfold and seem to be ramping up in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage across the nation last year.
Attorneys for Barronelle Stutzman, the 71-year-old owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, plan to argue that the florist’s right to decline making arrangements for gay weddings and to, thus, live out her Christian values are “robust” at both the state and federal level.
But members of the opposition — which include Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union — believe that this is an incorrect stance, using the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage case as well as non-discrimination laws in an effort to argue against exceptions for Stutzman, World Magazine reported.
Kristen Waggoner, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, told the outlet that cases like Stutzman’s are going to have a profound impact on everyone, pending how they turn out in the courts.
“It does not matter what you think about marriage,” she said. “The way these cases come out will affect you.”
In the law firm’s official appeal, the Alliance Defending Freedom warned that a decision finding “that there can never be a free speech exception to public accommodation laws — endangers everyone.”
As TheBlaze previously reported, the case against Stutzman has been forging on for three years now, as she was first sued by Ferguson in 2013 after she cited her Christian faith in declining to make floral arrangements for longtime client Robert Ingersoll’s same-sex wedding.
In Feb. 2015, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom found that Stutzman violated Washington’s Law Against Discrimination and Consumer Protection Act when she declined to provide service to Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed.
Ekstrom granted a summary judgement, ruling that Stutzman must provide the same services to same-sex couples as she does to opposite-sex couples. The state subsequently offered a settlement in which Waggoner would only need to pay a $2,000 fine and $1 in legal fees and commit to offering flowers for gay and straight weddings, alike, if she continued providing matrimony services, the Daily Mail reported.
But Stutzman rejected the $2,001 settlement agreement and penned a defiant letter detailing her views on the matter. In it, she wrote that it has been “exhausting” to be at the center of the controversy over the past two years and said that she never imagined that her “God-given talents and abilities” would become illegal if she refused to use them to serve same-sex weddings.
“Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs,” she wrote.
Stutzman specifically took aim at Ferguson’s settlement offer, claiming that it shows that he truly doesn’t understand her intention to defend her religious liberty.
“Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money,” she wrote. “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.”
Stutzman continued, “Washington’s constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.’ I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.”
This story has been updated.
(H/T: World Magazine)
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