Conservative SCOTUS Betrays Barronelle
The legal battle of a Richland florist who refused to create wedding bouquets for a gay customer ended this week when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear her case for a second time, but the journey was not in vain, she said.
Baronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, said on Friday that the experience has been a godsend and she has no regrets about taking a stand for her religious beliefs.
“We have been extremely blessed throughout this,” she said in a phone interview Friday. “We feel we have won by all the people we’ve met, the examples (of faith) we’ve seen.”
The case began in 2013, when Stutzman refused to provide flowers for the same-sex wedding of longtime customer Rob Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them.
“After Curt and I were turned away from our local flower shop, we canceled the plans for our dream wedding because we were afraid it would happen again,” said Ingersoll. “We had a small ceremony at home instead. We hope this decision sends a message to other LGBTQ people that no one should have to experience the hurt that we did.”
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer-protection lawsuit against Stutzman for refusing to serve the couple, alleging that she was violating Washington’s law against discrimination.
Stutzman, who has been represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, had argued that forcing her to provide flowers violated her religious beliefs and was tantamount to “compelled speech” because it would force her to endorse same-sex marriage.
In a 2017 ruling, the state’s high court ruled unanimously that Stutzman violated Washington’s anti-discrimination law.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Stutzman’s petition to review the case. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch indicated they would have agreed to review the decision, leaving them one short of the four needed for the court to take the case.
“This case has always been about ensuring basic fairness, justice and equality for all Washingtonians,” Ferguson said on Friday. “Today, we won.”
Where were you, John Roberts and Amy Coney Barrett? These two, by the way, also were among the majority that refused to hear the Gavin Grimm case, handing a big victory to transgender bathroom-invaders. [UPDATE: Bret Kavanaugh also left Stutzman in the lurch.]
I first met Baronelle Stutzman at an Alliance Defending Freedom conference in 2017. Back then, I blogged a couple of times about her case. From one of those posts:
Denny Burk, a Southern Baptist theologian and pastor, gave expert testimony in the Baronnelle Stutzman case. Here he reflects on what it means. Excerpt:
When I was first asked to give testimony, I thought my role as an SBC pastor and seminary professor would simply be to enter into the record what Southern Baptists believe about marriage. But that is not at all what it turned out to be.
For an entire day, I sat across the table from attorneys representing the Washington Attorney General and the ACLU (two different attorneys because Ms. Stutzman is being sued by the state and by the gay couple that she was once friends with). These attorneys didn’t merely ask me what Southern Baptist believe. They tried to show that what Southern Baptists believe amounts to invidious discrimination.
I had to defend not only our denomination’s statement of faith (The Baptist Faith and Message) but also resolutions passed by our denomination going back 30 and 40 years. It was hostile questioning intended to discredit what Southern Baptists believe about marriage. They wanted to discredit us so that they could discredit her. And make no mistake, once they succeed in punishing her, others will use this precedent to punish the rest of us—and not just Southern Baptists but any person who dares to act on their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
This is important for traditional Christians. It might be more important than you think it is. The ACLU, most of the media, the legal establishment, the Democratic Party — they all hate us. I mean, hate us. If Barronelle Stutzman were a Muslim, we never would have heard of this story. She is a Southern Baptist, therefore she must be destroyed. To paraphrase Terry Mattingly, the Grand Unified Theory here is: The Religious Right Must Lose.
This will never end. It will never, ever end. Best get that learned now. This case is going all the way to the US Supreme Court, which will either refuse to hear it (in which case the Washington court’s ruling stands), or it will hear it and render a judgment. I would not bet money on that judgment going in Stutzman’s favor.
So, we have to fight where and how we can, but we also have to realize that we will probably lose. What then? If we have any courage at all, we are not going to compromise our consciences. What will we do? How will we pay the debts inflicted on us by our persecutors? How will we work again? How do you get along in a society in which the people who hold the greatest power think you are Public Enemy No. 1?
From The Benedict Option:
In the end, it comes down to what believers are willing to suffer for the faith. Are we ready to have our social capital devalued and lose professional status, including the possibility of accumulating wealth? Are we prepared to relocate to places far from the wealth and power of the cities of the empire, in search of a more religiously free way of life? It’s going to come to that for more and more of us. The time of testing is at hand.
“A lot of Christians see no difference between being faithfully Christian and being professionally and socially ambitious,” says a religious liberty activist. “That is ending.”
Like I keep saying: this may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world. When the might of the State of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union comes down on the head of gentle, grandmotherly, small-town florist, and seeks her ruin for declining to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, you know that we are dealing with a bottomless well of hatred. You know exactly what we are dealing with here. So, prepare. We are all going to be asked to pay the cost of discipleship. When I interviewed her last summer, Stutzman said to me: “If they can come after me, they can go after anybody.”
From another post of mine from back then:
Never mind that Stutzman knew her customer, Rob Ingersoll, was gay, and had been kindly serving him for a decade or so. In this story in the Christian Science Monitor, Ingersoll talks about how Stutzman, a gentle grandmother (I met her last year), broke the news to him:
As part of the preparations, Ingersoll went to his favorite florist to ask her personally if she would handle the flowers.
At that brief meeting, Stutzman reached across the counter and took hold of Ingersoll’s hand. He would later recall to Freed the words she used: “You know I love you dearly. I think you are a wonderful person, but my religion doesn’t allow me to do this.”
In response to Ingersoll’s request for a referral, she suggested three local florists from among a dozen flower shops in the area. They talked a bit more, then hugged, and Ingersoll left the shop.
So he went and got the ACLU on his side, and he sued the hateful hag. Because #lovewins™, or something.
David French, who is a lawyer, describes the injustices that the Washington courts have inflicted on Barronelle Stutzman on behalf of these two spiteful narcissists:
The pretext for overriding the florist’s rights to free speech and religious liberty was Washington’s so-called “public accommodations law,” which required the owner, Barronelle Stutzman, to provide goods and services to customers “regardless” of their sexual orientation.
Let’s be clear, according to the plain language of the law and the undisputed facts of the case, Stutzman did nothing illegal. She had always consistently and joyfully served gay clients, including the man who ultimately decided to bring potentially ruinous legal claims against her. On each of those prior occasions, however, she was not using her artistic talents to help her clients celebrate an occasion she considered immoral.
In other words, she was not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. She was making a decision not to help celebrate an action, a form of expression. She would no more celebrate a gay wedding than she would any form of immorality, gay or straight. To dispense with her argument, the court did what numerous progressive courts have done: It rewrote the law. It rejected what it called the “status/conduct” distinction, and essentially interpreted the word “orientation” to also mean “action.”
To understand how nonsensical and dangerous this is, one need merely apply it to other categories of expression. Is it now racial discrimination to refuse to bake a cake with Confederate flag icing, since the person asking for such a cake will almost always be white? Is it gender discrimination for fashion designers to refuse to “dress” Ivanka or Melania Trump? They’re women, after all.
French says that the state Supreme Court compared what Stutzman did to Jim Crow. It’s fatuous nonsense. French points out that in the segregated South, black Americans were widely denied access to goods and services. Here?:
The gay couple in this case had no trouble finding flowers. Stutzman even recommended other florists who would have been happy to help them celebrate their wedding. So, given the absence of any real harm, the court said that the state had a compelling state interest in punishing the “independent social evil” of discrimination toward a “broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace.”
That’s it right there: the state religion. It reserves for itself the exclusive ability to name, define, and eradicate “social evils,” and heaven help the individual citizen who disagrees. There is no need to show a traditional, legally recognized harm. There is no need to prove lack of access to alternative artistic expressions. There is only the need to show that the business owner won’t use her unique talents to help celebrate the sexual revolution.
Last summer, I met Barronelle Stutzman, and interviewed her. Look at and listen to this video of her to get a sense of the kind of woman she is. When I was with her, the serenity of her bearing conveyed the granite strength of her religious conviction. This Southern Baptist woman shall not be moved. The state court has made it possible for the plaintiffs to sue her personally to cover their legal fees, which will probably go up to a million dollars. Understand: they aren’t satisfied to destroy this 72-year-old woman’s livelihood, but they also want to bankrupt her.
Because #LoveWins, always.
I am deeply aware of how scandalous, even how obscene, it seems to speak of martyrdom from within the relative safety and prosperity of the liberal West, while so many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world are dying for the faith. I have no answer to this powerful objection, and so I am also aware of the famous remark of Wittgenstein, “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” And yet the suffering of a Barronelle Stutzman does not become less real simply because liberal order has perfected the art of bleeding its victims slowly and invisibly through ten-thousand bureaucratic paper cuts, rather than with the sword or lions in the Colosseum. Certainly we must be grateful for that, and yet there is a peculiar challenge for Christian faith and witness in the fact that liberal order diffuses its power quietly, almost imperceptibly, without blood or spectacle or responsibility. It creates a real possibility that one’s sufferings may be visible only to God, so that it will always be possible to say, as many of our Catholic brethren seem only too eager to say, “Move on, there is really nothing to see here.”
Attention must be paid. What they do to her today, they will do to you tomorrow. Count on it. Will you and I have the courage to pay the price Barronelle Stutzman is paying? Will you and I at least stand with her and help her pay the financial cost her persecutors will levy on her? In The Benedict Option, I write:
A Christian family might be forced to sell or close a business rather than submit to state dictates. The Stormans family of Washington state faced this decision after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a state law requiring its pharmacy to sell pills the family considers abortifacient. Depending on the ultimate outcome of her legal fight, florist Barronelle Stutzman, who declined for conscience reasons to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, faces the same choice.
When that price needs to be paid, Benedict Option Christians should be ready to support one another economically—through offering jobs, patronizing businesses, professional networking, and so forth. This will not be a cure-all; the conversion of the public square into a politicized zone will be too far-reaching for orthodox Christian networks to employ or otherwise financially support all their economic refugees. But we will be able to help some.
Given how much Americans have come to rely on middle-class comfort, freedom, and stability, Christians will be sorely tempted to say or do anything asked of us to hold on to what we have. That is the way of spiritual death. When the Roman proconsul told Polycarp he would burn him at the stake if he didn’t worship the emperor, the elderly second-century bishop retorted that the proconsul threatened temporary fire, which was nothing compared with the fire of judgment that awaited the ungodly.
If Polycarp was willing to lose his life rather than deny his faith, how can we Christians today be unwilling to lose our jobs if put to the test? If Barronelle Stutzman is prepared to lose her business as the cost of Christian discipleship, how can we do anything less?
If you are a Christian who donates to charitable causes, please, please consider giving to the legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, which stood by Barronelle every step of the way, and which will stand by any of us, all the way to the Supreme Court.
This is a short clip of Barronelle explaining her case. This is the gentle Christian grandmother that this gay couple has crushed. This is the gentle Christian grandmother that a majority of the US Supreme Court — including
two three conservative justices — refused even to consider helping. We are on our own, folks. Understand that. Prepare. The Supreme Court will not save us from soft totalitarianism. Barronelle Stutzman refuses to live by lies, and is paying a heavy price. Her courage belongs in my Live Not By Lies book.
If there is a reliable fund for people to donate to so the Stutzmans don’t lose their house now, I will pass that information on to those (like me) who wish to donate.
UPDATE: Wesley J. Smith e-mails:
The real crucible will be when doctors are forced to be complicit in abortions, euthanasia, and transitions, at the cost of losing their professional licenses. Also, pro-life and orthodox Christians kept out of medical/nursing school.
This is the medical conscience issue and it is the big Kahuna.
You should keep an eye on the Dignity Health litigation. California courts are allowing a Catholic hospital to be sued for refusing a transgender hysterectomy—even though the courts know that the moral directives do not permit health organs or sterilization to ANYONE absent significant pathology. It didn’t matter. DISCRIMINATION. If the hospital has to pay millions, it will be Katy bar the door. This, to me, is the most significant religious freedom in the case right now.