Sued by Government for Refusing to Provide Flowers for Gay Wedding, Elderly Florist Files Countersuit

Sued by Government for Refusing to Provide Flowers for Gay Wedding, Elderly Florist Files Countersuit June 15, 2013


Arlene’s Flower and Gifts.  Is it the only place to buy flower in Washington? 

Bob Ferguson, Washington state’s attorney general, probably thought he was picking an easy fight when he took on 68 year old Barronelle Stutzman. After all, she not only had gray hair, she was a small business owner with very few resources to defend herself against the government.

It probably looked like an easy way to earn kudos from the my-way-or-the-highway crowd that seems to be running parts of our government these days. Ms Stutzman, who has a history of employing self-identified homosexuals, as well as serving them, evidently draws the line when it comes to providing flowers for gay weddings.

I think I see where she’s coming from. Selling flowers to gay customers or employing gay people are both well within Christian behavior. In fact, treating gay people like people is pretty much a requirement of following Jesus. Providing flowers for a gay wedding, on the other hand, would have put Ms Stutzman in the position of actively participating in something that just about all traditional Christians regard as sinful. It is a violation of what Jesus intended for marriage to be, and, many people believe, will do great harm to the already damaged institution of marriage.

To use an analogy, if someone who was getting ready to rob bank came into your store and wanted to buy a carton of milk for their lunch, selling them the milk would not make you part of their bank robbing. However, if they asked you to sell them a bag for the money, and they told you it would be used in a bank robbery, you would be part of the crime.

I am not equating bank robbery with gay marriage. They are entirely different. I just used that as an illustration.

The point here is that to compel someone to participate in an action that they regard as sinful is a violation of their human dignity and their right as human beings and American citizens to decide these things for themselves. Even if bank robbery was legal, if a store owner still believes that theft is a sin, they should have the right to refuse to sell the erstwhile robber the bag for the loot.

Ms Stutzman’s problems began on March 1, when Robert Ingersoll, who had known Ms Stutzman for 10 years, asked her to sell him flowers for his “wedding” to Curt Freed. Here’s Ms Stutzman’s description of what happened:

“He said he decided to get married, and before he got through I grabbed his hand and said, ‘I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ,’” Stutzman said. “He thanked me and said he respected my opinion. We talked and gave each other a hug and he left.” She said it was the only wedding she had declined in 37 years.

Attorney General Ferguson must not have too many serious crimes to deal with up there in Washington State because he immediately saddled up his white horse and rode out to hammer down on Ms Stutzman. He is using a consumer protection act to seek a $2,000 fine against Ms Stutzman, along with a permanent injunction which would force her to either sell flowers for gay weddings or to stop selling flowers for wedding ceremonies altogether. I do not know what jurisdiction passed the act the AG is using.

The only legitimate reason I can see for the chief law enforcement officer in Washington state to take such an extreme interest in this incident is that Ms Stutzman’s shop, Arlene’s Flower and Gifts, must be the only place in Washington state where those poor people who live there can buy flowers. That’s kind of sad, when you think about it.

However, Ms Stutzman hasn’t rolled over. She has filed a countersuit through the Alliance Defending Freedom. Her lawsuit is based on federal constitutional protections of religious freedom and protections in the Washington State Constitution.

According to American’s Defending Freedom:

ADF explains that the state’s lawsuit “is attempting to force Stutzman to act contrary to her religious convictions in violation of her constitutional freedoms.”

“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.”

He added, “It is this very freedom that gives America its cherished diversity and protects citizens from state-mandated conformity.”

In additional to federal constitutional protections, the Washington State Constitution also protects “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief, and worship,” as stated in Article 1, Section 11.

Stutzman has set up a fund for her defense. Donations can be sent to:

Key Bank
1275 Lee Blvd
Richland, WA 99352
Attn: Lindsey

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28 responses to “Sued by Government for Refusing to Provide Flowers for Gay Wedding, Elderly Florist Files Countersuit”

  1. The groom knew the lady florist for 10 years. Did he ask her about his wedding as a set up to get her in trouble? It doesn’t sound like the lady was unkind about the situation. I guess business owners should start lying and say they are booked up.

    I hope the florist has a strong Christian base because something like this could put her out of business.

    There are no winners here.

  2. Even if Ms. Stutzman loses, all she needs to do next time is to have a sign in her store that says:
    “To my dear gay neighbors: I am probably the least expert in the Tri-Cities when it comes to arranging flowers for gay marriages. You would be better served to hire another florist for your marriage. Respectfully, Baronelle Stutzman”.
    If the state objects to this, then they object to free speech. They wouldn’t get away with that.

  3. However, religious beliefs do not outweigh non-discrimination law. No matter how often people try to claim that the owner has the right to refuse service to anyone, that isn’t true. There is actually a specific list of things for which you cannot refuse service, which is compiled within non-discrimination law.

    This includes ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and a number of other factors. What Mrs. Stutzman did was in direct violation of these laws. It is very much the same as if she had refused service to African Americans specifically because of their ethnicity. That is not allowed.

    When you are a public business (and even for many private business depending on what specific kind), you do not have the right to refuse service to any part of the public because of their characteristics. That is called discrimination.

  4. She is free to put up such a sign. Indeed, that is free speech. But that doesn’t mean she can refuse service to someone because of sexual orientation, just like she can’t refuse service for an interracial marriage.

  5. Based on what I’ve read, Ms Stutzman has never refused service based on sexual preference, which is what I think you are really talking about. She did not refuse service based on sexual preference this time. The question, which has far larger applications than this one, is will religious people be forced to participate in gay weddings?

    “If you’re against gay marriage, don’t get gay married” the slogan goes, but more and more the move it for use the law to force people to participate in gay weddings.

    Discrimination is what is happening to Ms Stutzman. It is a particularly insidious kind of discrimination, akin to forcing a Kosher butcher to sell pork.

    She did not refuse service to any part of the public because of their characteristics. (I am assuming that the Washington law includes homosexual people as a protected class, btw, otherwise this discussion is actually non-sequitur,) She refused to participate by way of her business in a specific activity. She not only serves homosexual people, but she had been serving this specific homosexual person for years. We are talking about a specific instance, not refusal to serve any group of people.

    Just for the sake of argument, I would add that these laws came about because a large segment of the population was being denied service everywhere and forced ton go to services that were just for “their kind.” Black people could not stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, sit in theaters or even drink at drinking fountains that every other citizen used. They had to go to separate schools and live in separate areas.

    To try to equate that situation with this one is nonsense.

  6. The right to religious practice absolutely does outweigh non-discrimination law. The right to religious practice is innate and unalienable. Are you not a U.S. citizen, that you miss the importance of that distinction?

    Non-discrimination laws are of a lesser sphere, passed by civil society in pursuit of its defense of unalienable rights, but they are acknowledged by all as sometimes striking the wrong balance, creating a greater violation in pursuit of correcting a lesser evil.

    When this happens, the civil society which chooses the non-discrimination law over the unalienable right is merely imposing a forcible injustice in the name of doing justice, and failing at its central duty.

    What Mrs. Stutzman did was exactly the kind of action which our formulas of religious liberty are intended to defend.

    In the end, a government which punishes Mrs. Stutzman for acting non-hypocritically merely because she did so in the marketplace rather than inside the four walls of a church has eliminated the notion of “free exercise” of religion and has replaced it with mere “freedom of worship,” such as one finds in Saudi Arabia. (One can be a Christian there; one must merely keep one’s Christianity undetectable to other human beings.)

    Such a government, after a pattern of these and other abuses, is exactly the kind of government from which the Founding Fathers justly separated. For it is more morally permissible to forcibly defend a woman’s unalienable right, than to suppress it in the name of “non-discrimination.”

    I guess a quarter of a millennium is a long time to keep those principles alive in the minds of the citizenry, though. What a shame, to have to explain this stuff to folk! Who react with skepticism, no less! We don’t forget the principles of geometry so quickly. But the principles of human liberty need endless repeating, if they are to be retained.

  7. Whether she professes ignorance of technique in such matters is irrelevant.

    She absolutely does have the unalienable right not to participate in a public glorification of an intrinsically disordered act, and thereby sin and perhaps be damned because of this participation.

    This is not merely a civil right, but a natural right preceding and emanating from her intrinsic human dignity.

    Of course, an unjust government would use force against her to compel her to commit a sin. In such case she would be yet another in a long line of conscientious objectors, standing alongside Thomas More in receiving whatever unjust punishment the government levies on her. But even should that punishment involve execution, as it did for More, her moral duty would be to prefer to violate the laws of her country than to violate her conscience. Period.

    I don’t know why it is that some folk are confused about this. Failure to (meaningfully) teach history, ethics, and principles of government in schools, I suppose.

    I realize that one of the core goals of the wilder-eyed part of the gay movement is to compel all participants in society to shout insincere approval of same-sex mutual masturbation on pain of economic disadvantage and ostracization. It is the usual brownshirted behavior. I would have hoped that homosexuals, who have suffered such evil from brownshirt types in the past, would have known better: For the wheel always turns, does it not?

    And of course some homosexuals do know better, and profess no desire to compel churches to ordain gay bishops and perform gay marriages and place children for adoption by gay couples. But it is sadly apparent that these more liberal-minded persons are not the ones at the helm of the movement. And the temptation is very strong, isn’t it, to fight for ascendancy under the banner of fairness, and then, once ascendancy is attained, use institutional power to oppress the people that one hates? Christians, who of all persons were morally responsible for knowing better, were guilty of it before and now are targets of revenge. Homosexuals are unwisely clamoring for it now; but what will their status be in a century or two?

  8. This would be the fallback position. If things happen the way they should, Ms. Stutzman will win her suit. This is a good question for our society to be asked…is the invented right to not be offended take precidence over the REAL natural right to freely associate with whom we will. I’m not sure when going into business caused us to lose this right. It is time to get it back.

  9. Wrong. When a law enacted by the legislature comes into conflict with the Constitution, the law must yield. Mrs. Stutzman has a constitutionally guaranteed right to the free exercise of her religion, which includes freedom from compulsion to act against the moral precepts of that faith.

  10. The problem is that one can be offended by anything and everything. There is no way to protect someone’s sense of offense when they use it to discriminate against customers with their business. If they are selling something publicly, then everyone has the right to buy that product.

  11. So you’re saying that if I considered it a sin to allow, say, the mentally disabled to live, then I am morally obligated to violate the laws of the country and go and kill them, yes?

    If my conscience is all that matters, then I can consider any and all laws to violate that conscience, based on religious beliefs or otherwise.

    Why do you get to arbitrate what laws are right to break or not?

  12. “I don’t know why it is that some folk are confused about this.”

    She is committing a sin and risking being damned for all eternity if she provides her goods and services for a gay wedding. Who is confused? Seems clear as day to me. Got it.

  13. It’s amusing that you think it’s okay to only discriminate 10% of the time. It is not at all akin to forcing a Kosher butcher to sell pork, given that a Kosher butcher wouldn’t stock pork in the first place, for anyone. Yet she will (apparently) do any other kind of wedding. This more akin to a florist who is perfectly willing to sell flowers to black people, so long as they don’t try to marry white people.
    She absolutely refused service due to their characteristic. Not doing gay weddings discriminates against the gay, as other weddings are “okay.”
    The scattershot scare-quotes around gay “wedding” in the main article was just as amusing.
    Don’t want to work for gay weddings? Don’t do weddings. Easy as that. Take your ball and go home.

  14. Not quite. She thinks she is committing a sin etc. But unless she can prove in a court of law that her god actually exists and actually wants her to treat gay people as second-class citizens, no one else is obliged to take her seriously, especially not the courts whose job it is to decide if someone has broken Washington’s anti-discrimination laws.

  15. Race isn’t really an objectively governed reality. Sure, everyone has a skin colour and a hair texture and a facial bone structure, and some of these are quite different from each other. But these cannot be used to meaningfully divide people into a finite number of distinct groups, because the physical features merge into each other so smoothly that there is nowhere you could plausibly draw the line – except in situations where people two or more particularly divergent area have been brought together without there being representatives of all the intermediate areas. And there certainly aren’t meaningful biological distinctions that we have yet discovered. What we have discovered is that people will tend to pigeonhole each other, and invent discrete categories like “White”, “Black”, “Asian” etc … and once these categories have been invented, the way other people treat you can depend quite heavily on which category you are perceived as belonging to, but without there being anything truly meaningful underlying those categories.

    And sure, sexual orientation is something that depends on one’s psychology more than one’s physical appearance. But that does not make it any more of a choice than one’s perceived race. A gay person no more decides to find members of the same sex attractive than a chocolate fan decides to like the taste of chocolate ice cream more than the taste of strawberry ice cream. We do not get to choose what turns us on, even if we can exercise some conscious control over how much we act upon, or suppress, our preferences.

    But, that said, it shouldn’t matter whether being gay is ‘self-reported [and] subjective’ … because there are no good, reality-based reasons for treating gay people as second-class citizens. The only reason someone who wants to discriminate against gay is either ‘I personally find it icky’ … which is not something that anti-discrimination law should have to take into account, or ‘my god or gods disapprove of gays’, in which case, as I mentioned in my other comment above, all they would need to do is prove in a court of law that their god or gods exist and disapprove of gays, which, if an anti-gay god actually exists, should not be too much to ask.

  16. No. She had served them for ten years up until this time, and I gather from the story that she knew their “characteristic” all that time. She has a history of both serving and employing openly gay people.

    Her objection was to an activity, not a characteristic, and it was based on her religious beliefs.

    I put quotes around “gay wedding” because “marriage” between two people of the same sex is an oxymoron. That is not what marriage is. This is not to say that gay people don’t form strong attachments to one another which need legal protections. Their relationships just aren’t marriage, which is between a man and a woman.

  17. Marriage between two people of the same sex is not an oxymoron here in Washington State. The law (RCW 26.04.10) says: “Marriage is a civil contract between two persons who have each attained the age of eighteen years, and who are otherwise capable.” This includes people of the same sex.

  18. Who cares, Gina? The law is not God. Laws in various places have said all kinds of horrible and/or moronic things. I wonder if you would accept all of the laws in Nazi Germany, because, after all, they were all legitimately enacted laws.

  19. Uh, God doesn’t make US laws either. The laws in the US are in place for everybody (of every religion or no religion). I hate to break it to you but there are many gay married couples in the US as well as atheist married couples in the US. 🙂

  20. So, if they’re not marriages what is the problem with providing flowers? Since they’re not “actually” marrying?

  21. Not quite: She is committing a sin if she acquiesces to someone else’s sin (whether sexual, or blasphemous, or self-destructive, or all three) in such a way as to give an impression that she endorses it, is neutral about it, or thinks it’s not as bad as it is. She also is committing a sin if she lies by omission, although the “mental reservations” exception can be called upon in extreme circumstances (Double Effect, you know).

    So if she were to take action as a business owner which endorses or suggests neutrality about an action which she believes sinful and thus destructive, at the very least, to those committing it, then she herself would be guilty of material cooperation in that sin.

    And if she were to take action as a business owner which conveys an untruth in an important matter, even by not saying anything (and she’s not merely using her silence to save lives or achieve some other good through permissible means), then she commits a sin in that way, too.

  22. But, as stated above, Washington’s anti-discrimination laws are insignificant beside the intrinsic and unalienable right of a person to obey his conscience in religious matters. The latter is intrinsic to human dignity; the former is mere drawing of arbitrary lines to divide a gray gradient for legal convenience’ sake. The law errs on the side of religious freedom, no less for the Atheist than for the Muslim, and only if either group’s “religious convictions” require them to use unjust force against another may the government intervene (force justified by prior force). So if Atheists kill Muslims or Muslims kill Jews or Jews kill Christians, the government gets involved; but if a Muslim food vendor refuses to cater for the Atheist Pork-Rind-Eating contest, the Muslim’s religious practice wins in court. Heck, even Peyote wins in court. Magic shrooms are dandy if religious practice makes it so. That is the law.

    And that is the law for good reason. When government has no just authority to override someone’s religious practice, it doesn’t much matter what the President’s or the House Speaker’s religion is. But if government is empowered to prohibit the free exercise of religion, then that ups the stakes for who gets into office, doesn’t it? It becomes a matter of life and death, which isn’t the kind of thing you leave up to elections. And it also means that if the person who gets into office forbids X required for religion Y, or compels A forbidden to religion B, then whichever practitioners of Y or B don’t wuss out and renounce their faith are going to go to jail. The jails are already pretty full; can they handle another twenty million Evangelicals and Catholics? Think our civil society could survive that? (Jews are a much smaller proportion of our society, but I doubt that our society would survive the outlawing of circumcision.)

    It helps to know some history, to get a reasonable perspective on this. But believe me: You do not want, for example, a law forcing Catholic business (and hospital, and university, and charity, and orphanage, and crisis-pregnancy-center) owners to compensate their employees with vouchers for abortifacients and artificial contraceptives. Because: They won’t, and you can’t have all the Catholic-operated instances of all those things be fined into bankruptcy without hurting a lot of people and maybe starting a civil war. (If I remember correctly, about one-sixth of all hospital patients are served by a Catholic hospital.)

  23. Religious practice that forcibly (or through fraud, which is intellectual force) violates the rights of an innocent person may be opposed by force (which is the job of the government).

    But of course not doing business with Person XYZ does not qualify as an instance of forcibly or fraudulently violating their rights. Unless I am so-and-so’s personal slave, so-and-so does not have a right to have me produce a wedding cake for them.

    You gotta go back to fundamental American civics, here.

    People have certain natural rights; things which, apart from governments and contracts and social obligations, it’s simply okay for them to do.

    Among these are the right to use force to deter (or halt, or prevent a repetition of) a violent or fraudulent assault on an innocent party (themselves or someone else).

    Also among these are the right to hire employees and the right to form political associations. And some of one’s natural rights are of a kind which may be delegated to one’s employees.

    When a group of people form a political association for the purpose of collectively hiring employees to exercise their natural right to defend innocent persons against violence or fraud, that’s called “forming a government.”

    Read the text of the American Declaration of Independence, and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, to see how it all comes together: Government is a bunch of employees hired by people in political association for the purpose of wielding (through delegation of power) their collective natural right to defend the innocent by force. That’s what government is.

    That’s WHY government has a normal monopoly on the use of force: We The People hired employees to do it, and got out of their way. But it’s also why each individual retains a right to bear arms and to use them in self-defense. For, of course, the fact that I’ve hired an employee to paint my house doesn’t mean I lost my right to paint it myself, if he’s not around and I really need to get it done. Likewise, if a cop’s not around, a man being attacked may still defend himself: He didn’t lose the right when he delegated it to government. It remains his. If he didn’t have it, his employee (the government) wouldn’t have it, either, any more: For of course you can’t delegate authority that you don’t even have!

    Now when government drifts away from defending people against violence or fraud (for example, when government outlaws certain sex acts), it exceeds its warrant. It is doing something the people never authorized it to do. And the reason they never authorized their employees to forbid consensual sex acts is because they, in themselves, lacked any just authority to forbid consensual sex acts by force. Since they lacked that authority in their individual selves, their collective selves in political association also lacked it, and could not delegate to their employees, the government, an authority they didn’t have.

    The authority they have is pretty much limited to things involving force (or fraud, which is intellectual force). And that makes sense. It’s not morally right to use force against other human beings. It only becomes morally justifiable when they’re ALREADY, themselves, initiating unjust force against some innocent third party.

    But sauce that’s good for the goose is also good for the gander. Just as government has no just authority to forbid consensual sex acts (because individuals don’t); likewise, government has no just authority to force Person X to do business with Person Y (because individuals don’t). And certainly not in violation of Person X’s right to freely exercise his religion (or his “conscience,” if his personal philosophy happens to not be conventionally considered a religion; e.g., atheism).

    That’s the blessing and curse of a free country, gentlemen. The government can’t be used by people you despise to compel you to do stuff contrary to your conscience, unless you’re already in the process of attacking someone. (Hooray.) But the downside is that, if you have totalitarian inclinations yourself, a government that’s limited to only just exercises of power also can’t be used by you to compel people you despise to do whatever you like. Including making wedding cakes with three grooms, four brides, and a hamster. (Awww.) Them’s the breaks.

  24. “It is a violation of what Jesus intended for marriage to be,”

    Since marriage was common long before the time Jesus is alleged to have existed I fail to see how this Jesus character gets to decide what marriage is intended to be.

  25. The only problem with your argument and with the whole discrimatory argument is that sexual orientation/ homosexuality has NOT been declared a protected class. In order for non discrimination laws to apply you must be part of a protected class. Race is a protected class hence non discrimination applies. You can’t compare ethnicity to gay marriage because one is a protected class and the other is not. The SCOTUS in Doma refused to declare homosexuals as protected class which makes a big difference in this case. This case is not about discrination this is about shoving gay marriage into people’s throat.

  26. As I said before, sexual orientation is not a protected class while race is. Hence you cannot compare sexual orientation to an interracial marriage.

  27. Yes, it is a protected class. It is specifically protected under non discrimination law.