A florist rejected a settlement offer from Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Friday, days after a state judge ruled that her “relationship with Jesus” was not enough to justify her refusal to provide flower arrangements for the wedding of a same-sex couple.
The Wednesday ruling determined that the “religiously-motivated conduct” of Barronelle Stutzman, the Southern Baptist owner of Arlene’s flowers, was in “direct and insoluble conflict” with the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws.
On Friday, Stutzman told Ferguson in a letter released through her attorneys that the state’s settlement offer of a $2,000 penalty, a $1 payment for court and legal fees, and an agreement “not to discriminate in the future,” was akin to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus in the Bible. “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,” she wrote, adding, “that is something I will not do.”
“Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about,” she added. “It’s about freedom, not money.” (The full letter is here.)
Stutzman’s attorneys have already said they intend to appeal the ruling.
Stutzman refused to provide flowers for the wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed in early 2013. The pair were longtime customers of the shop, tying the knot soon after a Washington measure legalizing gay marriage went into effect in 2012.
In a deposition, Stutzman said “I just put my hands on his and told him because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do his wedding,” when asked to provide flowers for the couple’s nuptials. Stutzman also wrote about the refusal on her business’s Facebook page shortly after.
Both the couple and the state’s Attorney General’s office sued Stutzman and her business for that refusal — the couple under the state’s anti-discrimination laws, and the state under its consumer protection laws. The couple are represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Stutzman has become one of several cases across the country challenging state and local measures that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Those who oppose the anti-discrimination measures say that they hinder religious expression. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal aid group representing Stutzman, is also representing several other individuals and small businesses in similar cases.
In addition, conservative lawmakers in some states are pushing for laws that would allow for businesses to, on religious grounds, refuse certain services to potential customers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Washington Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, public accommodations, and real estate transactions, among other things. Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom’s Wednesday ruling was in favor of both the couple and the state.
The judge rejected Stutzman’s arguments that her flower arrangements should be considered a form of protected free speech, and that the state was pursuing the case to “make an example” out of her and her business.
“Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,” the judge concluded. “In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the courts have confirmed the power of the legislative branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”
Stutzman said in her Friday letter that the lawsuits “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,” adding, “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.”
ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner said in an earlier statement that she believes the judge’s ruling shows “the government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage.”
According to court documents, about 3 percent of Stutzman’s business comes from weddings. The state and the ACLU have argued that Stutzman could refuse to take any business from weddings at all — heterosexual or otherwise — in order to avoid falling afoul of the state’s anti-discrimination policies.
The judge hasn’t yet ruled on the damages Stutzman would owe. The couple is asking for $7.91 — or the cost of gas they say was spent driving to another florist for their wedding. The damages could be more substantial, however, in the state’s case.
Because both Stutzman personally and her business are being sued, she could face a maximum of two $2,000 penalties — $4,000 total — under the state’s consumer protection laws, Peter Lavallee, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office said in a phone interview on Friday. In addition to that, the state will potentially seek attorney’s costs and fees in the year-and-a-half long case, a dollar amount that “could potentially be significant.”
“That being said, the Attorney General is looking to enforce the law. He is not looking to penalize an individual with some sort of out-sized financial penalty,” Lavallee added. The state is confident that it will prevail in court under the state’s consumer protection laws, Lavallee added.
“There’s a very reasonable offer on the table,” Lavallee said of Stutzman’s response to the settlement offer, noting that if Stutzman instead chooses to continue the matter in court, “that’s her own choice at this point.”