Devout Christian florist won’t pay fine
Barronelle Stutzman, 70, a Washington florist who was sued after refusing to provide flowers for a gay wedding, this week rejected the State Attorney General’s offer to settle the case by paying a fine of $2001.00.
Stutzman, proprietor of Arlene’s Flowers, claims the deal requires her to give up her religious freedom. In a letter to Attorney General Bob Ferguson, she said:
As you may imagine, it has been mentally and emotionally exhausting to be at the center of this controversy for nearly two years. I never imagined that using my God-given talents and abilities, and doing what I love to do for over three decades, would become illegal.
Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.
Washington’s constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment’. I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.
Ferguson’s offer came after a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled on Wednesday against Stutzman, saying she had violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by declining service for a same-sex wedding ceremony in 2013.
Stutzman’s attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom have said they will appeal the ruling, which could result in her being required to pay damages and attorneys’ fees both personally and on behalf of her business.
The settlement offer, which appeared in a news release on the Attorney General’s website, would require her to pay:
A penalty of $2,000 under the Consumer Protection Act, a $1 payment for costs and fees, an agreement not to discriminate in the future, and an end to further litigation.
Ferguson said in the statement.
My primary goal has always been to bring about an end to the Defendants’ unlawful conduct and to make clear that I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Before this case began, my office wrote to M. Stutzman, asking her to comply with state law. Had she agreed to no longer discriminate, my office would not have filed suit, and Ms. Stutzman would not have paid any costs, fees or penalties.
Stutzman, described in one report as “a devout Southern Baptist”, is adamant that she’s not homophobic, saying she has hired gay employees and served any number of gay customers over the years, but that her Christian beliefs prevent her from participating in a same-sex wedding.
Such services would include:
Custom design work to decorate the ceremony, delivery to the forum, staying at the ceremony to touch up arrangements, and assisting the wedding party.
One of the men who sued her, Robert Ingersoll, pictured above left with husband Curt Freed, had been a client for nearly a decade, she said.
Stutzman wrote in her letter:
I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case.
You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process.