Barronelle Stutzman has decided that the best defense is a good offense. Stutzman, 68, is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts, the Richland, Washington, business being sued by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Ferguson is suing Arlene’s because Stutzman declined to violate her faith by doing the floral decorations for the wedding of longtime customer Robert Ingersoll and his partner Curt Freed.
Stutzman filed a countersuit yesterday against the attorney general, arguing that his suit violates her rights under both the United States and Washington State Constitutions, as well as violating the federal Civil Rights Act.
Article 1, Section 11 of the Washington State Constitution protects “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief, and worship.” It guarantees that:
no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion.
The countersuit, Arlene’s Flowers v. Ferguson, makes clear that Stutzman had no qualms about doing business with gay and lesbian customers in general or Ingersoll in particular:
In her capacity as the owner and primary floral designer for Arlene’s Flowers, Barronelle has been creating floral arrangements for Robert Ingersoll for nearly nine years. Barronelle enjoys the warm and cordial relationship that she has developed with Mr. Ingersoll. . . .
Barronelle has known that Robert Ingersoll identifies himself as gay throughout most of their nine-year relationship. That fact never made any difference in the way Mr. Ingersoll was treated as a customer.
Arlene’s Flowers routinely designs floral arrangements for other gay and lesbian clientele. Arlene’s Flowers has also had openly gay employees.
The countersuit also details Stutzman’s religious convictions:
In accordance with her understanding of traditional Christian and Biblical [sic] values, Barronelle believes that marriage has religious significance apart from any civil significance, and that its religious significance is inherent in the institution of marriage. Barronelle believes, as the Bible teaches, that marriage is defined by God as a union of man and woman.
Barronelle knew that creating floral arrangements for Mr. Ingersoll’s wedding would be contrary to her sincerely held religious convictions. She believed that doing so would compel her to express a message with her creativity that violates God’s commands. She also believed that her creation of the floral arrangements would be perceived as an endorsement and celebration of same-sex marriage.
You can read the countersuit here. (Keep scrolling–it follows Arlene’s response to the attorney general’s original complaint.)
Before voters legalized same-sex marriage last fall, same-sex marriage proponents assured us that, in Rep. Jamie Pedersen’s words:
the legislation will provide strong protection for religious liberty.
Now, of course, we see that it provides no protection at all. And Bob Ferguson’s ham-handed and simplistic solution is simply to trample the rights of people of faith.
Washington State’s non-discrimination statute prohibits discrimination on the basis of creed and religion as well as on the basis of sexual orientation. It’s high time we start talking about how we’re going to actually do that.
Last year was actually the time for the conversation, of course.
But better late than never.