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Washington State punishes florist Barronelle Stutzman

Homosexual weddings take priority over religious freedom

Babette Francis

On Thursday, 16 February 2017 the Supreme Court of Washington State issued its decision in the State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers and Ingersoll v. Arlene's Flowers. The decision is a major setback for religious freedom and is an ominous warning about what will happen in Australia if homosexual "marriage" is legalised. The case involved an anti-discrimination complaint brought against Barronelle Stutzman, 71-year-old owner of Arlene's Flowers. Three years ago, a long-time customer, whom Barronelle considered to be a friend, asked her to create a floral arrangement for his homosexual wedding. Barronelle who knew the couple were homosexual and had previously sold them flowers, declined to make the floral arrangement for their wedding because her Christian belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman prevented her "from using her artistic talents to promote contrary ideas about marriage." Instead, she referred him "to three other floral design artists who she knew would do a good job." The customer then filed suit against Barronelle: his case was joined by Washington State.

In 2015, the trial court found that Barronelle had violated Washington's anti-discrimination law and ordered her to pay a $1,000 fine-and legal fees, which could approach a million dollars. Also, Barronelle could no longer operate her business according to her beliefs without risking further legal sanction. Judging by the justices' questions and responses, they didn't appear sympathetic to Barronelle's plight, so it was no surprise that the Court ruled unanimously against her. It rejected her claim that "any discrimination, if it existed, was on the basis of marital status and not sexual orientation". The Court cited Obergefell (which legalised homosexual marriage in the US) and then took it even a step further, claiming that to not service a homosexual wedding serves to "disrespect and subordinate" gays and lesbians. For this and other reasons, the Court concluded that Washington's anti-discrimination law applied to Barronelle.

The court then turned to the question of her rights under the US and Washington State constitutions and ruled that her floral arrangements weren't "speech" but instead "conduct," and that this conduct "does not inherently express a message about [a same-sex] wedding, any more than providing flowers for an Islamic or atheist wedding amounts to endorsing Islam or atheism". Citing Employment Division v Smith and analogous cases under Washington's constitution, it rejected her religious freedom claim that the Washington law could only be upheld if it served a compelling governmental interest in the least restrictive means possible. The judges noted Barronelle is an "active member of the Southern Baptist church. It is uncontested that her sincerely held religious beliefs include a belief that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman." But that was of no account, they said. Justice McCord wrote that even "assuming that [the Washington law] substantially burdens Barronelle's religious free exercise, [it] does not violate her right to religious free exercise under either the First Amendment or (the Washington Constitution) because it is a neutral, generally applicable law that serves the state government's compelling interest in eradicating discrimination in public accommodations."

Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Barronelle, put it bluntly: "The Washington Supreme Court has punished Barronelle Stutzman for peacefully operating her business consistently with her faith. It's wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will." Barronelle's attorney, Kristen Waggoner, wrote in a statement after the ruling. "This case is about crushing dissent. In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist. Freedom of speech and religion aren't subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees." ADF will appeal to the US Supreme Court, in the meantime they ask us to pray for Barronelle and urge President Trump to keep his campaign promise and make religious liberty "a first priority" by signing an executive order to protect religious freedom.

The court rejected several arguments put forth by Barronelle, including the assertion that since other florists were willing to serve the couple, no harm occurred. The initiation of this case by a homosexual couple Barronelle regarded as friends illustrates the obsession of homosexual activists to harrass Christian businesses even though there are many other businesses willing to provide flowers, cakes or venues. In the Barronelle Stutzman case, the Washington State court simply ignored the fact that the florist HAD sold flowers to the couple, knowing they were homosexual. She had NOT refused to sell them anything because of their "sexual orientation." What she had declined was to participate in an EVENT that violated her beliefs. The Muslim and atheist weddings analogy is faulty. If Muslim and atheist weddings were between a man and woman, they would not violate her religious beliefs.

Baronelle Stutzman said "Rob Ingersoll and I have been friends since very nearly the first time he walked into my shop years ago.There was never an issue with his being gay, just as there hasn't been with any of my other customers or employees. He enjoyed my floral designs, and I loved creating them for him. But now the state is trying to use this case to force me to create artistic expression that violates my deepest beliefs and take away my life's work and savings, which will also harm those who I employ. I'm not asking for anything that our Constitution hasn't promised me and every other American: the right to create freely, and to live our faith without fear of government punishment or interference."

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