Florist appeals to Supreme Court for second time over same-sex wedding case

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Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A florist in Washington state sued for declining to serve a same-sex wedding is once again appealing her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a statement issued Sept. 11, lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom said that Barronelle Stutzman’s case must be considered by the court for a second time.

Stutzman’s appeal comes after the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against her for the second time earlier this year, saying that “the adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus” in ruling against Stutzman.

“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,” Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of the U.S. Legal Division of ADF and attorney for Stutzman, said on Wednesday.

In 2013, the 74 year-old florist declined to make flower arrangements for the same-sex wedding of long-time customer and friend Rob Ingersoll, saying that she believed marriage to be a sign of relationship between Christ and His Church and she could not make a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding. Stutzman referred Ingersoll to several nearby florists. 

Although Ingersoll did not file a complaint with the state, Stutzman was later sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the attorney general of Washington state for discrimination.

“The Attor­ney General concocted a one-of-a-kind lawsuit, prompt­ing others to threaten and harass her,” ADF’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court states.  

In 2017, the Washington state Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling against Stutzman. In June of 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the ruling and sent the case back to the state supreme court, ruling that Stutzman’s case should be reconsidered in light of the Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

In that decision, the Court decided that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed a constitutionally unacceptable hostility toward religion in ruling that Masterpiece Cake Shop baker Jack Phillips violated anti-discrimination law.

In June of 2019, the Washington supreme court again ruled against Stutzman saying the lower courts had not acted with impermissible hostility towards her religious beliefs.

“Although settled law compelled us to reject Arlene’s Flowers and Barronelle Stutzman’s claims the first time around, we recognized Stutzman’s ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ and ‘analyze[d] each of [her] constitutional defenses carefully,’” the court’s decision stated. “And on remand, we have painstakingly reviewed the record for any sign of intolerance on behalf of this court or the Benton County Superior Court, the two adjudicatory bodies to consider this case.”

“After this review, we are confident that the two courts gave full and fair consideration to this dispute and avoided animus toward religion,” the ruling stated. “We therefore find no reason to change our original decision in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop.”

According to ADF, the state supreme court issued largely the same decision that it had previously, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to reconsider the case in light of a new decision.

The Washington court said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission applied only to “adjudicatory bodies” and not executive officials like the state’s Attorney General, who brought the case against Stutzman. 

“In any event, we decline to expansively read Masterpiece Cakeshop to encompass the ‘very different context’ of executive branch discretion,” the Washington state supreme court’s decision stated.

In the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ADF argues that the state court effectively excused religious hostility by a state executive official, and that the Supreme Court “should reaffirm that the Free Exercise Clause binds all state actors, not only adjudicators,” and citing four federal circuit court rulings that applied rules barring religious hostility to executive officials.

Stutzman says she stands to lose almost everything that she owns if she loses her case.

“This case is an ideal opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm that the First Amendment protects people who continue to believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” ADF vice president of appellate advocacy John Bursch stated.

“Particularly at a time when society is becoming more confrontational and less civil, it is critical that the courts honor the rights of citizens to speak and act freely, including those who strive to live consistently with their faith,” Bursch said.

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