Religious liberty is a tough concept to grasp. For Americans, it often means figuring out how to balance religious convictions with all of the other rights granted in our Constitution, some of which conflict at times. Many of those rights were granted in the first ten amendments and are often referred to as the Bill of Rights because they were meant to provide assurances that a powerful government would not run roughshod over an individual’s rights. We know that the guarantee of religious freedom was one of the first amendments made to the U.S. Constitution and, as such, it’s often referred to as our “first freedom.” That’s why the case of florist Barronelle Stutzman is so important. It pits the powerful government of the State of Washington against a grandmother who runs a family-owned florist business in Richland, a small town on the Columbia River.
Attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have defended Stutzman since the beginning of her nightmare in early 2013. ADF Attorney Kellie Fiedorek says the State launched the assault on Stutzman. “What’s interesting with Barronelle’s case is that, generally, complaints are filed with the State Human Rights Commission, and then the Commission determines whether or not there’s probable cause to proceed with the investigation, and the case goes forward. In Barronelle’s case, no complaint was ever filed. The same-sex couple never filed a complaint. It went viral and the Washington State attorney general actually found out about what happened through social media, and decided to come after Barronelle himself.”
What does she face if the case doesn’t ultimately go her way? Stutzman could lose both her business and personal assets. When speaking at the NC Family Major Speakers Dinner in Raleigh, Stutzman explained this is a fight she did not seek, but she is determined to see it through. “The government is telling us that we have no freedoms. They are telling us what to think, what to do, what to say, what to create, and how to believe. If we don’t do this, we’re told we will be destroyed.” Then, speaking to the audience, Stutzman warned, “If we do not start to stand up and speak out, if we do not fight for our freedoms, soon there’ll be nothing to stand for because our voices will not be heard.”
If you would like to hear Stutzman and Fiedorek when they were interviewed by NC Family President John Rustin at the Raleigh Dinner, you can listen to this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast below.
NC Family brings you a Q&A session between NC Family President John Rustin, Barronelle Stutzman, and Kellie Fiedorek, from our NC Family Major Speakers Dinner in Raleigh. Stutzman is the Washington State florist whose religious liberty case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fiedorek is an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, who represents Stutzman in her ongoing defense of her religious liberties.
We bring you a Q&A from our NC Family Major Speakers Dinner in Raleigh, featuring Barronelle Stutzman, Kellie Fiedorek, and NC Family President John Rustin. Barronelle Stutzman is the Washington State florist who’s religious liberty case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kellie Fiedorek is an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom who represents Stutzman in her continued defense of her religious freedoms.
JOHN RUSTIN: Barronelle, thank you, and Darold, (her husband) thank you so much for being here. You run a flower shop. Tell us a little bit about how you got started in floral design, if you would.
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: I was never going to be a florist. My mom bought a florist shop and she asked me if I would deliver for her after I got off work, and I said, “Sure,” which was a really bad mistake. I am directionally handicapped. I do not know north, south, east and west! My delivery career with very short. My mom was a great salesperson and she came up with all these brilliant ideas, and then she’d say: I sold this. You figure out how to make it! And that’s how I learned my creativity part. And one time she came up to me and she said, “I sold a singing bouquet and I want you to deliver it to HAPO Credit Union,” which is a huge credit union. I’m going, “Okay.” So I’m standing in the middle of HAPO Credit Union singing, “You light up my life,” holding this bouquet. It was one of my worst experiences in the floral industry.
JOHN RUSTIN: But this turned into a career for you, with Arlene’s Flowers. So tell us a little bit about the shop and sort of your experiences, and how you have grown into that industry as the owner of Arlene’s.
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: It’s an awesome shop. We have 11 crew members and we’ve served the community for over 47 years. We’re on our third generation of Prom flowers, and we just consider it a mission field. We are so blessed to be able to wait on people and especially sympathy work. When people come in, we will pray with them if they like, we will sit and talk with them. We’ll find out about the loved one they lost, if maybe perhaps it’s a grandparent, and we find out what memories do they have with them. And we always ask the people to come in and look at the flowers before they’re delivered. And if they come in and walk into the cooler and burst into tears and say, “That’s Grandpa!” then we know we’ve done our job.
JOHN RUSTIN: Wow. So you pour a lot of yourself into these arrangements and the work that you do for your customers. I know you have a lot customers, and have had a lot of customers over the years. But talk to us a little bit about Rob, who is the customer that you had for many years, who ended up being the subject of this lawsuit.
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: Rob was one of my favorite customers. I waited on him for almost ten years. I knew Rob was gay from the beginning. It didn’t matter. He would come in and he would ask me to create arrangements for birthdays or special events. He told me what the theme was, and I love doing it for him. He would pick out unusual containers and he would say, “Do your thing,” which I love because I got to go “out-of-the-box” and make something different and usual. He was a joy to work with and if he walked into my shop tomorrow, I would wait on him for another ten years.
JOHN RUSTIN: So what happened in 2013 that changed all of this?
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: Well, Washington passed the same-sex marriage law, and I knew Rob was coming in to talk to me about his wedding. He’d been in twice before. So I went home and I talked to Darold and I said: What are we going to do about this? And he said: Well, it’s very clear. The Bible is very strong on this. So, it was my job to tell Rob, the best I could without hurting his feelings. So when Rob came in to talk to me about his wedding, I just simply put my hands on his and I said: Rob, I’m sorry I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ. And he said he understood. He said his mom felt the same way. He was hoping that she would walk him down the aisle, but she wasn’t sure. We talked about his engagement and why they decided to get married, and just chit chatted for a while. He asked if I would recommend another florist, which I did. And we hugged each other and Rob left. His partner put something on social media that night that simply said, “Barronelle has every right to believe the way she does, but she hurt our feelings.” And from there it went viral.
JOHN RUSTIN: So after that went viral, Kellie, tell us about what transpired.
KELLIE FIEDOREK: Well, what’s interesting with Barronelle’s case is that, generally, complaints are filed with the State Human Rights Commission, and then the Commission determines whether or not there’s probable cause to proceed with the investigation, and the case goes forward. In Barronelle’s case, no complaint was ever filed. The same-sex couple never filed a complaint. It went viral and the Washington State Attorney General actually found out about what happened through social media, and decided to come after Barronelle himself. So he was the first to file a lawsuit against her saying that she had violated Washington’s law against discrimination. And then the ACLU also, about a week later on behalf of the couple, then also sued her. And then both lawsuits sued her personally and corporately. So they sued Arlene’s Flowers, but then they also sued Barronelle in her personal capacity, which means they can go after all of her assets. In Washington State it’s a community property state, so they can also go after her husband. I think it’s unprecedented. We’ve never seen a state attorney general go after one of its own citizens in such a form and fashion before, so targeted toward her.
JOHN RUSTIN: Barronelle, after this happened—of course all of this went viral in lots of different ways—I know you were attacked verbally, and otherwise, personally. Tell us a little bit about the threatening calls and hate mail and things that you received in response.
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: The day that this went viral—we have five [phone] lines in our shop and we’re open from seven in the morning until six at night—and for two weeks solid our phones rang constantly, with death threats, computer threats, picketing threats. We had to notify the police. I had to change the way I drove to work. We had to install a security system. It was unreal. And the worst part was when people called with the hate, that they would not listen. They didn’t care to hear the truth. And it just broke my heart that they were so angry and so frustrated. Your eyes are open to how hateful the world is and how people react to something that they didn’t even have the facts about. They didn’t know that I waited on Rob for all those years.
KELLIE FIEDOREK: Barronelle, on a little bit of a lighter note, why don’t you tell a little bit about the security system that you decided to employ?
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: I go into work really early, like 5:30 in the morning, and we have all these glass windows in front of our shop. And one morning I drove up and I saw this person in the shop. I backed my car up and I went across the street and called the police. They came in with their dog and found the guy and searched everything for me. When the officer was leaving he said: You should get a dog. People are really scared when a dog comes in. And I thought, I didn’t know if he was kidding or not, but I thought, I can’t get a dog, you know, who’s going to let him in and out and so on and so forth. But for months after that, when I came to work, I would open the door and I’d go, “RUFF, RUFF, RUFF!” I felt a lot better.
JOHN RUSTIN: Kellie, give us an update about where things stand with respect to Barronelle’s case now.
KELLIE FIEDOREK: So her case went all the way up to the Washington State Supreme Court. What was interesting there, the Attorney General conceded during oral argument that when Barronelle creates floral arrangements, that is in fact speech, meaning that would be protected under the First Amendment. It was a huge concession and even bothered, a little bit, some of the Justices because they questioned him on that a little bit, and pressed him. Essentially he said, “Well, it’s speech. It’s protected, but the government can still tell her what she can and can’t say or can and can’t create because that’s what the government should do if they don’t like her viewpoints,” essentially is what they said. So we lost at the Washington State Supreme Court, 9 to 0.
We appealed that to the U.S. Supreme Court and it ended up getting put on hold pending the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. We got the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision last June and the Supreme Court “GVR’d” her case, which basically means they granted, vacated, remanded, and essentially took away the lower court’s ruling, and sent it back down to the Washington State Supreme Court saying; You guys need to reexamine her case in light of what we just said in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. So now we’re fully briefed, we’ve sent our briefs up, the other side has as well, and we’re just waiting for oral argument date to be set back at the Washington State Supreme Court.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this interview, the Washington Supreme Court renewed their complaints against Barronelle and so her case will once again be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.]
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: The Washington Supreme Court told me I could have my faith, I just couldn’t practice it.
JOHN RUSTIN: So Barronelle, how did you feel when you heard from ADF? And of course, ADF represents Barronelle, represents Jack Phillips, and many other people whose religious liberties have been infringed upon in lots of different areas. But how did you feel when you heard from ADF about the outcome of Jack’s case, and then how that had an impact on yours?
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: Well, they called me at 8:30 in the morning, which was 5:30 my time, and Kristen told me, and I was so excited cause I really didn’t think they were going to win. I just prayed and I thanked God and I cried, and then I went and found my daughter and we just hugged each other. It was pretty exciting to know that we have another chance to protect our freedoms.
JOHN RUSTIN: So I mentioned this a little bit, but from your standpoint and Darold’s, what really is at stake in the outcome of this case for you?
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: Pretty much everything. We can lose our home, our retirement, our life savings, everything we’ve worked for, for our kids and our grandkids. The government can lose our taxes, our estate could lose taxes, our employees could lose their jobs, our wholesalers can lose our business. It’s a trickle down effect simply because we have a different viewpoint on marriage. Rob and Curt have every right to believe and act on their faith, we are only asking for the same.
KELLIE FIEDOREK: And one thing just to add there, the reasons sometimes people ask why can she lose everything, it’s because right now the ACLU attorneys’ fees are, at this point, well over $1 million, close to $2 million […]. So it’s still really a long journey, and so that’s how these things add up to where she could lose everything, and they could come after everything to be able to force her to be able to pay that.
JOHN RUSTIN: Now Kellie, Justice Ginsburg commented on Barronelle’s case, saying that she thought it might be the next at the U.S. Supreme Court, and that her case didn’t have the hostility that you mentioned with the Jack Phillips case. So some different fact scenarios there that could bode one way or the other. So tell us what your thoughts about Arlene’s Flowers case and how that might differ from Jack Phillips, if the Supreme Court were to give it consideration.
KELLIE FIEDOREK: A lot of people have asked, as John said, in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, one of the key components of that was the Court said that the government— the Commission—can’t act with hostility toward the person, cannot exemplify that kind of hostility toward a person’s religious beliefs or their convictions. And so, some have speculated that the same hostility, which was very overt, [was not as apparent in] Barronelle’s case. But the hostility exists here just as much. One, first and foremost, is that the Attorney General went after her without a complaint being filed. On his own initiative, he went after her. He’s traveled around the state demeaning her and saying uncharitable things about her in terms of what her convictions are and what her standpoint is. And there are some other things there in the case of how the government’s treated her, that certainly seems to rise to the same level of hostility that the Court found in Masterpiece Cakeshop.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for sharing that. We do need to draw our time here to a close. Barronelle, I just wanted to thank you for sharing so personally and transparently about your experience, and Kellie, your wisdom and understanding of the law and all the various aspects of this. But Barronelle, as we end our time here, is there anything in your heart that you’d like to share with the kind folks here in Raleigh?
BARRONELLE STUTZMAN: Never in a million years did I think I’d be up here telling you that my life and livelihood are on the line. This was not on my bucket list. The government is telling us that we have no freedoms. They are telling us what to think, what to do, what to say, what to create, and how to believe. If we don’t do this, we’re told we will be destroyed. I’m not up here to get sympathy or to get media coverage, I’m up here because my life is real, my business is real, and my family is real. If we do not start to stand up and speak out, if we do not fight for our freedoms, soon there’ll be nothing to stand for because our voices will not be heard. And when my kids, or my grandkids, come up and say, “Grandma, what happened to our faith? What happened to our freedom?” Or worse yet, when I’m kneeling before Christ and he puts his hands on my face and says: Barronelle, what did you do to uphold my name? I don’t want my answer to be: I did nothing.
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