News (USA)

A florist wants the Supreme Court to allow her to discriminate because flowers are ‘speech’

Barronelle Stutzman
Barronelle Stutzman lost her challenge to Washington's nondiscrimination laws, claiming her religious beliefs allowed her to discriminate against LGBTQ peoplePhoto: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

A Washington florist who has been fighting for years for a religious exemption to discriminate against LGBTQ people is again asking the Supreme Court to take up her case.

Barronelle Stutzman owns Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. In 2015, she was fined $1000 when she refused to sell flowers to a gay customer who was getting married. She appealed the decision, saying that she was Southern Baptist so being forced to sell gay people wedding flowers would violate her religious beliefs.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled against her, and the U.S. Supreme Court has already punted her case back to the state supreme court once. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the ruling against her.

Now she wants the U.S. Supreme Court to take her case again. And she’s being represented by the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom.

Related: Masterpiece Cakeshop baker sued for discrimination again. It’s not a wedding cake this time.

“In Obergefell’s wake, government officials continue to disregard civility and punish ‘reasonable and sincere’ people of faith like Barronelle because of their beliefs about marriage,” her petition to the Supreme Court says. “This violates the First Amendment’s promise that citizens are free ‘to differ as to things’ such as marriage and religion ‘that touch the heart of the existing order.’”

Of course, Stutzman is perfectly free to refuse to marry someone of the same-sex. No one is questioning that.

ADF is arguing that flower arrangements are a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, and therefore she should be allowed to refuse to sell flowers that will be used in “sacred events that violate her religious beliefs.”

In 2017, the Washington Supreme Court wrote in its opinion, “As Stutzman acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism.”

Jennifer Pizer of Lambda Legal told the Washington Blade that the new petition is an “unsurprising recycling of arguments.”

She also said that ADF’s argument that people will believe that Stutzman approves of the wedding is faulty.

“The difference between vendors and the wedding party and guests is obvious to most people,” she said. “The threat to civil rights laws should be, too. Because if flowers, why not the food, the custom clothing, a limo to the venue? These cakes and flowers cases are attempting to pry open a door to marketplace discrimination that the Supreme Court has kept firmly closed so far.”

“More than half a century ago, the court rejected as ‘patently frivolous’ the notion that owners’ religious beliefs free businesses to discriminate against customers,” she said, referring to a case where the Supreme Court rejected the idea of a religious exemption to anti-discrimination laws when it came to racist discrimination.

But perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court has moved far enough to the right since the 2015 Obergefell ruling that it is willing to accept that religion is an acceptable reason to refuse to sell one’s products to LGBTQ people.

An HRC bigwig fought for marriage equality. Now she’s fighting her divorce by attacking it.

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