Richland florist returns fight for religious freedom vs. gay rights to U.S. Supreme Court

The Richland floral shop owner at the center of a 6-year fight over religious freedom is once again asking the country’s highest court to take her case.

Barronelle Stutzman and her attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom announced on Wednesday that they are continuing their fight with the filing of a 471-page petition of review to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Stutzman, 74, owns Arlene’s Flowers on Lee Boulevard.

She was sued in 2013 after refusing to design arrangements for the same-sex wedding of a longtime customer.

The couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, and, separately, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson say Stutzman violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act by declining to provide services based on sexual orientation.

The two lawsuits have worked their way up together from Benton County Superior Court to the state Supreme Court, and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court, which vacated Washington state’s previous ruling and remanded it back to the lower court.

This past June, Washington’s Supreme Court justices stuck with their 2017 unanimous opinion, reiterating that Stutzman broke the law.

Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed sued in a case that went to the state Supreme Court, where justices ruled that Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and the Consumer Protection Act.

The justices further said they found no sign of intolerance or hostility toward religion on behalf of their court or Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom, who gave the initial ruling in the case.

Stutzman at the time vowed not to give up.

A Southern Baptist, she has argued that arranging flowers is artistic expression protected under the First Amendment.

“Barronelle serves and hires people from all walks of life. What she can’t do is take part in, or create custom floral arrangements celebrating, sacred events that violate her religious beliefs,” Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom’s U.S. legal division, said in a news release Wednesday.

“Because of this, the Washington Supreme Court upheld a ruling that threatens Barronelle with personal and professional ruin,” she added.

“Regardless of what one believes about marriage, no creative professional should be forced to create art or participate in a ceremony that violates their core convictions. That’s why we have taken Barronelle’s case back to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

PC19-Florist Arlenes
Arlene’s Flowers on Lee Boulevard in Richland. Tri-City Herald

Waggoner, in addition to representing Stutzman, argued on behalf of Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips before the U.S. Supreme Court for the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

The attorney said the ruling from Washington’s justices gives the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to resolve many important legal issues left unanswered after the Colorado case “and to reaffirm that the First Amendment protects the freedom of Americans to hold different views about topics as fundamental as marriage.”

The petition by Alliance Defending Freedom says if the country’s high court does not review Stutzman’s case “government officials will keep dragging reasonable and sincere people of faith like Barronelle through the courts, imposing ruinous judgments, and barring them from their professions simply because they hold disfavored views about marriage.”

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.