Barronelle Stutzman had her day in court. Accused of violating the state’s law against discrimination for declining to decorate for a same-sex wedding, today Mrs. Stutzman went to the Washington State Supreme Court to argue that the First Amendment protects her right to decide the kind of messages she supports with her art.
She had appealed a lower court ruling concluding that once an artist sells their work to the public, they must agree to do any art someone is willing to pay them to do, regardless of personal objections.
The lower court concluded that declining to decorate for a same-sex wedding is always discrimination based on sexual orientation regardless of the fact that Mrs. Stutzman has employed people who experience same-sex attraction, sold them flowers in the past, and repeatedly emphasized her willingness to do so in the future.
Because the state has sued her in her personal and professional capacities, she stands to lose her home, life savings, retirement, and business to the government in this case.
A crowd of approximately five hundred people showed up to support Mrs. Stutzman. The crowd filled the three-hundred person auditorium and two overflow rooms at Bellevue Community College, where the arguments were held.
Outside the hearing room, the crowd held signs that read “I Stand with Barronelle” and “Freedom to Create” and chanted “Bar-ron-elle” as she left the courtroom.
A tent organized by the ACLU, which is representing two of the plaintiffs who are suing Mrs. Stutzman, had approximately six people in attendance who held rainbow colored umbrellas in support of the lawsuits against her.
On one hand, the lack of enthusiasm in the general public for forcing grandmothers to decorate for same-sex weddings is encouraging. But the fact that the state has stubbornly refused to recognize an individuals right of conscience is troubling.
Still, it remains to be seen is whether the Washington State Supreme Court will be as sympathetic to her cause as the public is.
Attorney Kristen Waggoner, from the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued on behalf of Mrs. Stutzman that that the First Amendment protects the right of individuals in the creative arts to choose for themselves what kind of events they lend their artistic expression to.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson argued, on behalf of Washington State, that the state’s interest in eradicating discrimination overrides any First Amendment protections Barronelle Stutzman might otherwise have.
The state argued that individuals have an absolute right to believe whatever they want to believe, but the state has an absolute right to regulate their religious conduct through non-discrimination laws.
A decision in this case is not expected until March, at the earliest.
Regardless of the outcome, it is expected that the losing side will appeal this decision to the United States Supreme Court.
This case, and a series of other religious freedom cases around the country, highlight the significance of the Supreme Court vacancy expected to be filled shortly after the inauguration of President-elect Trump.
In the meantime, you are encouraged to contact your legislators and encourage them to support legislation that protects conscience rights and religious freedom.
You can reach them through the legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Even if you don’t know who your legislators are, the hotline operator will use your address to communicate your message to those who represent you.
And you should say something. After all, if they can threaten a kindly grandmother’s life savings because of her beliefs, they can do it to you as well.