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Washington State Court Rules Against Florist



Florist to appeal decision to United States Supreme Court

In a unanimous decision, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that florist Barronelle Stutzman had engaged in unlawful discrimination under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) when she refused to create a flower arrangement for a same-sex wedding. The lower court previously ordered Stutzman to pay a penalty as well as legal fees. Following the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, Stutzman’s attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom have said they will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2013, Stutzman refused to create a flower arrangement for a customer who requested that she make them for his same-sex marriage ceremony. She provided the names of several other local florists who would make an arrangement and claims that she and the customer, Rob Ingersoll, “seemed to part as friends.” Ingersoll and the State of Washington both filed suits against her alleging unlawful discrimination.

The original lawsuit, Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers, was filed in October 2013. Ingersoll and his partner Curt Freed were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union while the Alliance Defending Freedom provided a legal defense team for Stutzman. The State then filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Stutzman for violating the Washington Consumer Protection Act. Both lawsuits offered non-judicial settlement; however, they both required Stutzman to agree to supply flowers for same-sex marriages in the future, something she refused to do.

Stutzman argued that her refusal was protected by her First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free speech. In a statement, ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, Stutzman’s lawyer, argued that “No one would expect a Muslim journalist to write a piece for a religious journal that attacked Mohammed; no one would expect an Orthodox Jewish artist to create a mural for a religious customer that contradicted the Torah’s teachings. Nor should Barronelle be forced to create custom expression celebrating a same-sex wedding.”

The Court rejected her religious freedom claim, ruling that providing flowers for a same-sex marriage does not constitute an endorsement of such a marriage and, therefore, is not protected as free exercise of religion. Stutzman claimed that because her arrangements were custom made for the occasion, they should be considered speech. She said that she would be willing to provide flowers or premade arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony, but draws the line at custom arrangements, as they are artistic expressions. Furthermore, she insisted that she had happily sold flowers to Ingersoll, including when she knew they were as gifts for his partner, for almost a decade and would continue to do so in the future.

Regarding Stutzman’s free speech defense, the Court ruled that providing or not providing flower arrangements does not “inherently express a message about that wedding” and therefore should not be treated as free speech. The Court held that granting that exception would eat away from the effectiveness of public accommodation laws. The Court, quoting an amicus curiae brief filed by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State organization, wrote that allowing Stutzman only to offer premade flower arrangements would “create a ‘two-tiered system’ that carves out an enormous hole from public accommodations laws: under such a system, a ‘dime-store lunch counter would be required to serve interracial couples but an upscale bistro could turn them away.’”

Several students responded to inquiries from the Rover regarding the results of the case. Junior Patrick Koehr disagreed with the Court’s ruling, saying, “There is a fundamental difference between discrimination against an individual and not approving of a certain action that goes against a belief they hold. If we are to truly have diversity in this country, we must demand each person to stand for what they believe to be the truth, while being respectful of all others.”

Koehr continued, “Sometimes this can cause difficult situations where we must refuse to participate in an activity that we believe to be harmful. Stutzman enacted this in the most respectful and loving way she was able.”

Freshman Aidan McDonald also disagreed with the Court’s ruling, arguing, “It’s not as though Stutzman is refusing to serve gay people—those she is serving are not allowing her to disagree with secular moral imperatives, and the state of Washington is aiding and abetting this violation of her rights.”

Freshman Lito Michael Moroña, however, supported the Court’s decision, commenting that Stutzman should “just sell them the flowers because it’s discrimination not to, and it’s basically like what they did to black people not too long ago.”

Freshman Lily Arp also supported the Court’s decision, claiming, “If you can’t discriminate based on gender or ethnicity, why should sexual orientation be any different?”

Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers joins several other similar cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which involves a Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. These cases are being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where religious freedom will likely be a key part of the upcoming session.

Kevin Angell is a freshman studying economics and political science with intended minors in computing and digital technologies and theology. On campus, he is a Sorin Fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture as well as an active member of the Knights of Columbus. He strongly believes in the importance of providing accurate and timely coverage of events relevant to the Notre Dame community. Contact him with questions, comments, and reactions at kangell@nd.edu.

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