Lawyers for a Christian florist vow a vigorous appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a state supreme court ruled unanimously Thursday that their client violated anti-discrimination laws by refusing to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.
All nine justices ruled for the State of Washington and plaintiffs Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed and against Baronelle Stutzman and her store, Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts.
“Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” wrote Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud in the court’s opinion. The court further stated that the state’s anti-discrimination law does not infringe upon Stutzman’s freedom of religious expression.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending Stutzman, begs to differ.
“They’re wrong,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who argued Stutzman’s case before the Washington State Supreme Court.
“We’re deeply disappointed with today’s court decision. The first amendment protects Baronelle’s rights as a small business owner and a creative professional. She has loved and respected everyone who has walked into her store. She served this gentleman (Ingersoll) for nearly ten years and simply declined an event, one ceremony that was a religious ceremony because of her religious convictions,” said Waggnoner.
While not stunned by a liberal court ruling against her client, Waggoner says it’s a mind-boggling ruling when the state conceded the crux of Stutzman’s case.
“Even in oral arguments, the Attorney General of the State of Washington conceded that Baronelle’s design of custom arrangements was expression. The court’s opinion says she intended to convey a message. The first amendment clearly protects this activity and these designs as pure speech,” said Waggoner, who says Stutzman will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
Washington State Attorney General Robert Ferguson is making name for himself. In addition to vigorously prosecuting Stutzman, Ferguson also took the lead in challenging President Trump’s executive order on travel from seven nations plagued by Islamic terrorism.
Waggoner says Ferguson is clearly trying to make an example of Stutzman.
“One wonders why it was so personal and vindictive. If it was about the principle of law, the attorney general could have just sued Baronelle’s business. Instead, he chose to pursue her in her personal capacity. The ACLU has also been behind this. They also sued on behalf of clients in this case. They also are suing her personally. Everything she own’s is at risk,” said Waggoner.
“The civil fines are relatively low. The court hasn’t decided in terms of what she must pay the couple that’s represented by the ACLU. But where the stick is and the real threat to business owners and creative professionals is in the attorneys’ fees. She’s required to pay attorney’s fees, which could exceed seven figures,” said Waggoner.
Alliance Defending Freedom has set up a web page for anyone interested in helping Stutzman face the financial challenge.
Waggoner says Stutzman has 90 days to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and then wait to learn if the court will hear the case. She is hopeful there will nine justices on the court by the time any oral arguments take place.
Waggoner is fully confident the Constitution is on Stutzman’s side.
“In the first amendment, our rights and protections for free speech and free exercise of religion protect her right to do that. Nor did she violate the statute. She didn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. As I said, she served him for ten years. This was about her religious convictions and a sacred religious ceremony,” said Waggoner.
And Waggoner says there’s plenty of legal precedent on Stutzman’s side as well.
“The law in this area is clear and the court misrepresents that law in its decision. The U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have said these types of discrimination laws can’t be used to trump first amendment rights. The government cannot use it’s power to force someone to promote a message or celebrate a ceremony in violation of their conscience,” said Waggoner.
Waggoner says how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in this case will have a profound impact on our nation.
“If the Supreme Court sides with Baronelle Stutzman, it reaffirms that tolerance is a two-way street and that the government cannot use its power to crush people and crush dissent, crush those that don’t agree with the government’s ideology at that point,” said Waggoner.
“All civilizations have had the freedom to believe what they want. What has made America unique is the freedom to live out those beliefs in the marketplace in a peaceful way. That’s what’s at stake in this case