A nine-year battle in state and federal courts to uphold her First Amendment right to practice her faith in the workplace ended on Nov. 18 as Barronelle Stutzman announced her retirement and sale of the flower shop at the center of the case to its employees.
Stutzman, 77, from Richland, Washington, told reporters in a Washington, D.C., news conference that she has agreed to pay $5,000 to the plaintiffs and her attorneys will withdraw her request to the Supreme Court that it reconsider its rejection earlier this year of her appeal of a lower court decision.
Asked by a reporter how she feels after such a long legal battle, she said that “it will be nice to get back to normal, though I am not sure what that is.”
She added: “You know the fight is not over, I will continue to support whoever I can. This is not just about Arlene’s Flowers, it’s about each and every one of us. We are losing our liberties, one by one, and we have to keep fighting. We have a Constitution and religious freedom that need to be in the forefront.”
Earlier in the news conference, Stutzman read a prepared statement in which she said, “I wish the culmination of all that I’ve been through could result in a new respect, culturally and legally, for freedom of conscience in our country.”
Stutzman is represented by attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based public interest law firm that specializes in religious freedom litigation. The firm has won more than a dozen Supreme Court cases in recent years.
“From the beginning, I have asked no more than the freedom to act in accordance with my religious beliefs and personal convictions. I have treated those who persecuted me with respect, and with the assurance that I want for them the same freedom that I ask for myself,” she said in the statement.
Stutzman’s legal odyssey began when Rob Ingersoll, a longtime customer of Arlene’s Flowers and close personal friend, asked her to create floral arrangements to celebrate his marriage to another man.
Ingersoll “asked me to do something I’d done many times before: Design a unique, personalized arrangement of flowers to celebrate a special event in his life. I had always been delighted with those creative opportunities, just as I’d always been happy to sell him bouquets of flowers,” Stutzman said in her statement.
“But this time, the special event he was celebrating was his marriage to another man. And that was a line I could not cross, even for friendship. I am a Christian, and I believe the Bible to be the Word of God.
“That Word makes it clear that God loves all people so much that He sent His Son to die in their place. And it also teaches that He designed marriage to be only the union of one man and one woman. I could not take the artistic talents God Himself gave me and use them to contradict and dishonor His Word.”
Stutzman gave Ingersoll references for other florists that she was confident would provide him great service, the two friends hugged, and he left the shop.
Not long afterward, Washington state Attorney General Robert Ferguson read about the situation on social media and filed suit against Stutzman, in both her capacity as owner of the flower shop and personally. Thus, the stakes for her and her husband, Darold, the potential loss of their business, substantial fines, and lawyers fees, were immense.
Then, Ingersoll and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Stutzman in a second suit. Following two losses at the Washington state Supreme Court, Stutzman appealed to the Supreme Court.
Kristen Waggoner, Alliance Defending Freedom’s general counsel, said the settlement applies in all of the litigation and protects Stutzman against future liabilities resulting from past actions.
“I think [the settlement] demonstrates that it’s time for the courts to pay attention to what is happening in Washington state,” Waggoner told The Epoch Times.
“The Washington state Supreme Court is especially brazen in its disregard for the constitutional rights of its citizens. We are not only seeing these attacks that were unprecedented in the way they were suing Barronelle.”
Waggoner pointed to another Washington state case in which the firm represents “the Seattle Union Gospel Mission Church where the court has essentially rewritten Washington law to force churches to stop hiring people of a similar faith if it’s not a ministerial position. That is an egregious violation of the Constitution.”
The Supreme Court will consider the Seattle Union Gospel Mission Church’s appeal in December.