When the Supreme Court announced July 2 that it had declined to take up florist Barronelle Stutzman’s case, it left her on the losing side of an eight-year court battle.
In 2013, one of Stutzman’s longtime customers asked her to design floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding. She told him that because of her religious beliefs, she could not design an arrangement for the wedding, but she referred him to several other florists. A few weeks later, she learned she was being sued.
The Washington state “attorney general, without any complaint from Rob [Ingersoll] and Curt [Freed], sued me personally and corporately, and the ACLU got ahold of Rob and Curt and also sued me personally and corporately,” Stutzman told The Daily Signal.
Now, the Washington state Supreme Court ruling against the Christian florist stands because the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up Stutzman’s appeal. The Supreme Court’s move could cost Stutzman everything.
“It has cost us so much mentally, physically, spiritually,” Stutzman said. “And then the cost, everything we’ve worked for all these years, the flower shop that I own, our home, our retirement, our life savings, everything is in jeopardy because of the ACLU, [and] attorney fees are going to be so large.”
Stutzman and Kristen Waggoner, general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, join the “Problematic Women” podcast to explain the details of the court battle and the implications of the high court’s refusal to hear her appeal.
Also on today’s show, we talk with Lindsey Burke, director of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, about the National Education Association’s commitment to promote critical race theory in schools across America.
And as always, we’ll be crowning our “Problematic Woman of the Week.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am so honored to welcome to the show Washington state florist shop owner Barronelle Stutzman and general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom Kristen Waggoner. Barronelle and Kristen, thank you all so much for being here today.
Barronelle Stutzman: Our privilege. Thank you.
Kristen Waggoner: Thank you.
Allen: Barronelle, you have been in the middle of a major religious freedom lawsuit ever since 2013. We followed your case very closely here at The Daily Signal. It has been a long journey. So, let’s unpack some of that journey and really go back to the beginning and how we have now arrived with the Supreme Court being involved.
So, you run your own florist shop in Washington state, and back in 2013, one of your longtime customers asked you to design flowers for his same-sex wedding. Tell us about that conversation and what happened afterwards.
Stutzman: Well, Rob [Ingersoll] had been in the store a couple of times before, and I wasn’t there, and told the girls that he was getting married and wanted to talk to me. And so, I knew I was coming in, so I went home and talked to [my husband] Gerald and asked him what we were going to do.
And it was my job to tell Rob the best way I could that I could not do his wedding because my faith teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman. And he said he understood. And we talked about his mom walking down the aisle, and we talked about why he and Curt decided to get married. And he asked if I would recommend another florist, which I did, which he got his flowers from.
Matter of fact, they had enough offers for 23 weddings, so it wasn’t like they couldn’t get their flowers somewhere else.
But we talked, and we hugged each other, and Rob left. So, I had no idea whatsoever there was anything wrong. And then his friend Curt put something on social media that simply said, “Barronelle has every right to believe the way she does, but it hurt our feelings.”
And from there, it went viral. And from there, the [state] attorney general, without any complaint from Rob and Curt, sued me personally and corporately, and the ACLU got ahold of Rob and Curt and also sued me personally and corporately.
Allen: Wow! So, obviously, not what you were expecting when you ended that conversation with Rob, that ended very cordially and with a hug in the store, and then to find out that you’re being sued on multiple fronts.
Kristen, Alliance Defending Freedom is a Christian legal organization that has represented Barronelle in this case now for eight years, all the way through. The Washington state attorney general filed that lawsuit against Barronelle, claiming that she was required to create flower arrangements for same-sex weddings.
Then you all stepped in to help her and to represent Barronelle in this case. What was the Washington—or what is the Washington state law that the attorney general said that Barronelle was in violation of?
Waggoner: The Washington state attorney general took unprecedented action against Barronelle, not just in suing her personally, but in two other ways. There were two laws they claimed she violated. The first was Washington’s law against discrimination, which is the state nondiscrimination law. And what was unusual about that, and unprecedented, was that normally a state nondiscrimination law, there’s an agency that investigates claims like that, and the agency determines whether and how to move forward. It’s often call a human rights commission.
In Washington, though, the attorney general was so intent on pursuing Barronelle that it bypassed the human rights commission and took on the lawsuit itself without even going through that process.
The second claim that they made, which was also unprecedented, it’s the only time that we have seen this law be used in this way, is they sued under the state’s Consumer Protection Act. In most, if not all states, I don’t know the exact stats, but many states have consumer protection acts, and they sued Barronelle under that act as well.
Allen: So, shortly after the attorney general filed those lawsuits, then the ACLU came along, and they sued Barronelle. What are the differences between the ACLU’s lawsuit against Barronelle and the attorney general’s?
Waggoner: Nothing, there’s absolutely no difference. There’s no difference in the facts. There’s no difference in the arguments, which I think underscores the vindictiveness of these lawsuits. This is about sending a message to not only people in Washington state, but to scare those on a national level and to really punish and ruin someone who doesn’t agree with the attorney general’s ideology.
Allen: Kristen, Alliance Defending Freedom asked the Supreme Court to hear arguments for Barronelle’s case, for the case Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, but the Supreme Court has said no. So, now the case reverts back to the Washington state Supreme Court decision, which was a ruling against Barronelle.
So why would the Supreme Court not hear this case when they have heard other, similar cases, such as Jack Phillips’ case?
Waggoner: It’s so hard to speculate, and I can’t even speculate on why the court would make the decision that it did. What we do know is that the first time the case went up, the Supreme Court wiped out that bad decision by the Washington Supreme Court and told them to reconsider her case.
The Washington Supreme Court defiantly cut and pasted its original decision into a second decision, and that’s the one that went before the U.S. Supreme Court this time. And oddly, the Supreme Court held Barronelle’s request for almost two years and did nothing with it. That’s very unusual, and signals that the court is carefully considering it or wanting to do something.
So, I don’t know what changed over the course of this, but what I do know is that a grave injustice was done to Barronelle, but that the legal questions that her case presents are still open questions. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a case is not binding precedent on anyone. It doesn’t change the law in any way. And there are other cases like Barronelle’s that will be coming up to the high court.
Allen: Barronelle, what were you feeling when you heard that the Supreme Court would not hear your case? When that news came out last week, what were some of the thoughts running through your head?
Stutzman: Oh, there were so many. I was very sad. I was devastated. I just could not believe that our constitutional freedoms, that the Supreme court wouldn’t even hear them. That this is such a loss, not just to me, but to everybody. When you can’t practice your faith and you can’t live by your convictions, I mean, it gives Washington state and ACLU the pathway to absolutely destroy me and to threaten anybody else that would happen to think the same way.
Allen: You’ve been in and out of the courtroom now for eight years. What has this lawsuit against you, lawsuits against you, cost you and your family?
Stutzman: It has cost us so much mentally, physically, spiritually. And then the cost, everything we’ve worked for, all these years, the flower shop that I own, our home, our retirement, our life savings, everything is in jeopardy because of the ACLU, attorney fees are going to be so large.
We’ve saved all this for our kids and our grandkids. We’ve worked hard. I’m 77 years old. That’s a little late to start over, so it’s very devastating.
Allen: I know you shared your story in an ADF video in 2018. And you said that if the court didn’t rule in your favor that you would likely lose everything, because as you mentioned, those lawyer fees are expensive, the financial penalties from Washington state. How is that turning out now? Do you know some of the realities yet of those financial costs?
Stutzman: We don’t know how it’s going to turn out. We just have to wait and see. And we just have to wait and see. We don’t know what the future’s going to bring.
Allen: Why is this issue so important to you? I mean, I think so many Americans, including myself, so feel for you, so have empathy. But why put a stake in the ground here and say, “You know what, I’m not going to compromise on this area of my faith.”
Stutzman: Well, I think we all have lines in our lives that we have to draw, and that was my line. The Bible is very explicit about weddings and marriage and between a man and a woman, and I believe that, my faith teaches me that. And so that was the line I had to draw, even though it was very difficult for me.
I love Rob. I miss Rob. I would wait on him for another 10 years. That’s just one event that represents Christ and his church, and that’s just something I could not do.
Allen: Yeah. What would you say to someone in the LGBTQ community who’s maybe offended by your position on this issue?
Stutzman: Well, there was nothing to ever be offended over. I waited on Rob for 10 years. I’ve had employees that identify as gay and lesbian. It was never an issue whether they were gay or straight or anything else. It was an issue of that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s one event, one event in 10 years, and I’m losing everything.
Allen: And your flower shop, is it still open?
Stutzman: The flower shop’s still open. We cannot do weddings anymore. So, everything that I’ve worked for, my creativity, being able to do weddings, being able to do the thing I love, is now being taken away.
Allen: And are you thinking about, “OK, now it might be time to move states.” Or what are thinking through as far as next steps now?
Stutzman: I’m just waiting to see how everything turns out, which it’s a question mark, so we’ll be patient and wait.
Allen: Kristen, this case, I think it’s eye-opening for many people. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in 2018, saying that he had the right to follow his religious convictions and to not be forced to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
So, I’m wondering, why is there still a question on this issue when we saw that Supreme Court ruling in the case of Jack Phillips? That seemed pretty cut and dry, so why is this still such an issue in question, and even still an issue that for someone like Barronelle, she’s finding herself on the losing side of?
Waggoner: Well, I had the privilege of arguing Jack’s case at the Supreme Court, and I had the extreme privilege of arguing Barronelle’s case in the Washington Supreme Court. And the first thing I would say is that Jack’s case at the Supreme Court, the holding was based on the First Amendment free exercise of religion clause, it was based on [anti-religious] hostility. And the court said that it’s wrong for the government to express hostility towards people of faith. It also said it’s wrong for the government to essentially compare those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman to those who, for example, might engage in racial bigotry.
The principle in Masterpiece establishes that there are good-faith differences of opinion on marriage.
And the Fulton decision, which came out this term as well, again, reiterates that principle, that involved religious adoption agencies who have convictions about marriage. So, I think those principles are still in place, but what the court’s decision did not do in Masterpiece is decide anything outside of that area. It didn’t rule on Jack’s free speech claim, and the heart of Jack’s case, and the heart of Barronelle’s case, is also this idea that you would have to create artistic expression, that you would have to express messages or participate in ceremony that are celebrating messages that violate your core conviction.
And that principle is one that we still need to have the court affirm. That principle is critical, not just for those who believe in marriage between a man and a woman, it transcends the marriage issue. And as you may know, Jack Phillips is on his third case. I think you referred to that, and that case is involving gender identity, and whether you have to express messages about the nature of what it means to be a man or a woman.
So, these are critical issues that really do transcend marriage, and the court’s decision in Masterpiece, and even in Fulton has left the door open for progressives to essentially use the justice system as an arm of cancel culture.
Allen: So then, what’s next, what needs to happen in order for there to be clear-cut boundaries and protection of religious freedom for individuals like Barronelle, Jack Phillips?
Waggoner: There are a number of cases that are involving creative professionals in the lower courts that are working their way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court needs to hear and affirm these critical rights on behalf of all Americans.
I mean, just to put it bluntly, the same freedom that allows a photographer, or a website designer, or a floral artist to decline events that promote a view of marriage that violates their convictions, allowed that same freedom for the person with the opposite view.
So, think about it in the life context, for example. Should a pro-abortion photographer have to go take on the project to promote the March for Life, or vice versa? So, we need to be able to protect the right to disagree, because that’s how we have a pluralistic and a free nation.
Allen: And is there any path forward for Barronelle’s case here?
Waggoner: No, there’s not, to be candid. I mean, Barronelle has blazed a trail. She stood with courage to the bitter end, and it’s a grave injustice that the court didn’t correct that in a meaningful way for her. But I think the best way to honor what she has done is for others to speak the truth about how important it is to have freedom of expression, about how important it is to have a truly tolerant society, and that means one that goes both ways on these critical issues.
And as I said, I’m hopeful that the court will, again, affirm this principle in a future case, and that would help Barronelle. So, in one sense, her case is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the issue is resolved. What it means is that we continue to push forward to ensure First Amendment rights apply to those who have orthodox beliefs on human sexuality. Those are the ones that are being crushed right now.
Allen: Barronelle, there’s obviously so much media coverage of your case and your story right now. What is it that you really want the public to know about you and your journey and your choice that you made to, like you said, kind of draw the line in the sand here?
Stutzman: Well, I just want to thank everybody for their prayers and their concern. And we have every right constitutionally to stand up and to have our faith and to live consistent with our beliefs. And I just don’t want people to think that, “Oh, it’s just a little flower shop. Too bad, so sad.” Because if it can happen to me, it can happen to you, and we have to stand strong, we have to have a line that we will not cross.
Allen: Kristen, Barronelle, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you all joining us today.
Stutzman: Thank you so much.