The Constitution used to protect religious liberty in this country, but a Christian florist is finding out the hard way that times have changed. Â Barronelle Stutzman, a devout Christian and loving grandmother, wanted nothing more than to live out the rest of her days running her own flower shop. Â She saved all she could and opened her own store calledÂ Arleneâ€™s Flowers. Barronelle was living her dream, until a gay couple made a request that quickly transformed her life into a nightmare.
A homosexual man named Rob Ingersoll asked Barronelle to make the floral arrangements for his gay wedding. Â As a Christian woman who would not feel comfortable taking part in a gay wedding ceremony, she respectfully declined. Â Barronelle had nothing against Mr. Ingersoll, she actually liked him very much. He was a customer of Arlene’s flowers for the past ten years, but she couldn’t go against her faith. Word of her refusal to sell to a gay man quickly spread, and before she knew it, she was being sued byÂ Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson Â for operating her business according to the dictates of her Christian faith.Â The issue is that in Washington, officials believe the stateâ€™s statutory protections for homosexuals trump the Constitutionâ€™s protection of religious liberty.
After Ferguson sued on behalf of the state, the ACLU also joined in the case against Stutzman, filing an additional lawsuit on behalf of several customers. Normally, a suit like this would only be able to go afterÂ the businessâ€™s assets, but because of a recent ruling by a Washington judge, theÂ suits will also target Â Stutzmanâ€™s personal property, savings and assets.Â According to a newÂ report from the Family Policy Institute of Washington,Â Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ackstrom ruled that her personal assets can be targeted.
Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer with theÂ Alliance Defending Freedom,Â which has been representing the longtime florist, expressed pure outrage,
â€œIn America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not intimidate citizens into speaking and acting contrary to their faith under threat of severe punishment,â€ she said. â€œThe government is sending a clear message to Barronelle and the people of Washington: Dare to disagree with the government, and you put your home, your family business, and your life savings at risk.â€
The ADF claimsÂ that the flower corporation was set up under a Washington law that protects personal assets except in cases of knowing fraud, deception or theft, none of which is alleged in the case. The ADF also argued that Baronelle didn’t discriminate againstÂ Rob Ingersoll. She sold him flowers for almost a decade and never had a problem.
â€œMr. Ingersoll was offered free flowers. This gentle grandmother is basically being sued for all she owns. Does this sound like equality to you?â€ ADF asked in a commentary about the case.
Barronelleâ€™s case could set an alarming precedent for Christians who are living out their faith in their daily work. How much longer are we going to allow Christians to be bullied for standing up for what they believe in their own businesses?
If you are concerned that the government is suing grandmothers because of their beliefs about marriage and sexuality, please contact your state legislators and ask them to support protections for conscience rights and religious freedom. Then encourage your friends and family to do the same.