After fighting for her free speech rights and religious liberty for nearly a decade, Barronelle Stutzman’s legal battle has finally reached its end. Sadly, it wasn’t the end that Stutzman and faithful Christians were hoping and praying for.
Stutzman’s legal fight began on April 9, 2013, when the Washington state attorney general filed a complaint against her for refusing to design and create a custom floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding.
The customer who asked Stutzman to create the arrangement was Rob Ingersoll, who Stutzman describes as a “dear friend” to this day.
Shortly thereafter, Ingersoll also filed a lawsuit against her through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t decree same-sex marriage to be legal nationwide until 2015.
After more than eight years up and down the court system, including two petitions filed at the U.S. Supreme Court, Stutzman has reached a settlement with Ingersoll and the ACLU putting an end to the litigation.
The settlement requires Stutzman to retire and turn her business over to her employees. She also must pay a $5,000 fine to Ingersoll and his partner.
The fine is bittersweet since Stutzman was facing the possibility of paying millions of dollars’ worth of attorney fees. While $5,000 seems like a drop in the bucket compared to what she could have been forced to pay, forcing Stutzman to pay any fine in this case is unjust.
Stutzman has written a letter explaining her decision to settle the lawsuit, which she also shared on camera.
She wrote that after refusing to create the custom floral arrangement, “What followed were lawsuits filed against me and a concerted effort to either force me to change my religious beliefs or pay a devastating price for believing them including being threatened with the loss of my home, my business, and my life savings.
“Today, that journey ends, and I am at peace … I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At age 77, it’s time to retire and give my business to someone else.
“So, I’ve paid $5,000 to Rob and am passing my legal torch on to other artists.
“I’ve never had to compromise my conscience, or go against my faith.
“If you’ve prayed for me, thank you. If you’ve hated me, well … I’ve prayed for you … And finally, I wish Rob the very best.”
Rob and his partner will donate the $5,000 fine Stutzman has paid them to their local PFLAG chapter and will match the donation. PFLAG is the “first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people.”
“This settlement is an end to a lengthy court case, not a change in or surrender of Barronelle’s beliefs,” ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner said in a statement. “Over the last eight years, Barronelle stood for the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans, even those who disagree with her about a deeply personal and important issue like marriage.”
“ADF is proud to have represented Barronelle—and many of us have formed deep friendships with her,” Waggoner added. “The Supreme Court needs to affirm the right of all Americans to speak and live consistent with their conscience.”
It’s important for us to be clear about what happened to Barronelle.
An eight-year secular legal crusade succeeded in silencing and shutting down a 77-year-old Christian grandmother, because she would not bend her knee to anyone other than her Creator.
That’s a tragedy, plain and simple. And it should never happen in the United States of America.
Also in her letter, Stutzman noted that she is “passing my legal torch on to other artists—like Lorie Smith of 303 Creative in Colorado, whose case may well be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this term.”
That case involves a web designer, Lorie Smith, who is being forced by Colorado law to “design and publish websites promoting messages that violate her religious beliefs.” The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Colorado can force Lorie to express messages that violate her faith. So she, with the help of lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom, has appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Let’s all pray that, if it’s God’s will, the Supreme Court will soon affirm the right of creative professionals to live and work in accordance with their faith.
It may be too late for Barronelle. But the fight for religious liberty and free speech continues.
The case was Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington.
Photo from Alliance Defending Freedom.