Barronelle Stutzman, the 76-year-old grandmother and owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, learned this week that the Supreme Court will not hear her free speech/religious freedom appeal. She has been in the news since 2013, when she was asked to create floral arrangements for the wedding of a long-time customer of hers – a gay man. Stutzman politely discussed her Christian faith and told him that she couldn’t use her creative talents to promote a marriage that contradicted her biblical beliefs.
When she offered to refer her customer to three other florists, he sued her for discrimination with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Attorney General of the State of Washington also sued her. And assessed fines. She countersued, claiming violations of her rights of free exercise and free speech. She lost in the state courts. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2018, just after handing down a religious freedom victory to Jack Philips of Masterpiece Cakeshop fame, sent the case back to the state courts of Washington to reconsider in light of the justices’ decision in the baker’s case.
The Washington state courts – for a second time – found Stutzman had discriminated against her customer. She appealed once again to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on July 2 issued a long list of final orders involving dozens of pending cases, including a short, two sentence order denying her petition to hear her case.
“The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. Justice Thomas, Justice Alito, and Justice Gorsuch would grant the petition for a writ of certiorari,” the order stated.
Stutzman could lose her business and all her personal assets, including her home, in paying the fines and attorneys fees of the State of Washington and ACLU, who both made a crusade out of making an example of her.
Stutzman’s attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom explained to the high court that the state of Washington was guilty of the same type of anti-Christian animus that the justices found with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of baker Jack Phillips. They pointed to lower courts who had ruled in favor of other wedding vendors who declined to use their creative talents to promote a same-sex wedding.
They even argued that the unaddressed gaps in the court’s decision in favor of Jack Phillips allowed him to be sued a second and third time, this time over a cake designed to celebrate a customer’s “gender transition.” They asked the court to plug those legal gaps and reaffirm its longstanding decisions against government-compelled speech.
All to no avail, it would seem at this point. You need four justices who want to “grant cert,” i.e., accept the case and set it for oral argument. Stutzman ended up one justice shy of that requirement.
So why didn’t the court want to hear her appeal? We will never know for certain. What we do know is that when the Supreme Court recently decided Fulton v. Philadelphia, the foster care case involving religious beliefs about marriage similar to Stutzman’s, it did so without addressing the problematic high court precedent from 1990, Employment Division v. Smith, which has been used in cases like Stutzman’s to allow “nondiscrimination” laws to trump religious conscience.
In Fulton there was a conflict among the justices as to whether to take on Smith directly and deal with the inequities that decision has created in the court’s religious freedom jurisprudence. Several wanted to overrule Smith, a couple more criticized it, but ultimately there was no consensus reached. Smith still stands.
And that’s a shame. The justices will probably get around to addressing Smith at some point in the future, but Barronelle Stutzman will find little solace in that, as she faces possible financial ruin for defending her faith against a hostile secular government.
ADF’s General Counsel Kristen Waggoner addressed the Supreme Court’s denial of cert in a press release:
“Although the outcome of this case is tragic, the critical work of protecting the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans must continue. No one should be forced to express a message or celebrate an event they disagree with. A government that can crush someone like Barronelle, who kindly served her gay customer for nearly a decade but simply declined to create art celebrating one sacred ceremony, can use its power to crush any of us regardless of our political ideology or views on important issues like marriage.
“Thankfully, other courts have recognized that the Constitution does not allow this. Unlike the Washington Supreme Court in Barronelle’s case, the Arizona Supreme Court and the 8th Circuit have ruled that the government cannot force creative professionals to create artistic expression that violates their religious beliefs. We are confident that the Supreme Court will eventually join those courts in affirming the constitutionally protected freedom of creative professionals to live and work consistently with their most deeply held beliefs.”
Please pray for Ms. Stutzman and all those who stand up in defense of religious freedom and freedom of speech. They are on the front lines in today’s cultural, legal and political clashes and deserve all the support we can offer them.
Picture from ADF.