Floral Artist’s Freedom Case Heads Back To US Supreme Court With Wide Support

u.s. supreme court
U.S. Supreme Court [Photo courtesy U.S. Supreme Court]

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has received numerous friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the freedom of a Washington state floral artist—and, by extension, other creative professionals—to decline to create artistic expression and participate in events with which they disagree. The briefs filed in Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington and Arlene’s Flowers v. Ingersoll include support from 17 states, 43 members of Congress, and a variety of legal experts and religious groups.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing floral artist and 74-year-old great grandmother Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, asked the U.S. Supreme Court last month to take her case after the Washington Supreme Court ruled against her in June. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the state high court’s previous ruling against Stutzman and ordered it to reconsider her case in light of last year’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. The state court came back with the same result, repeating verbatim much of what it said in its original decision.

That ruling gives the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to resolve many important legal issues left unanswered after Masterpiece Cakeshop and to reaffirm that the First Amendment protects the freedom of Americans to hold different views about topics as fundamental as marriage.

“Barronelle serves and hires people from all walks of life. What she can’t do is take part in—or create custom floral arrangements celebrating—sacred events that violate her religious beliefs. The briefs filed with the Supreme Court affirm that principle,” said ADF Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner, who argued on Stutzman’s behalf before the Washington Supreme Court in 2016 and who also argued for Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips before the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop. “The Washington Supreme Court upheld a ruling that threatens Barronelle with personal and professional ruin. Regardless of what one believes about marriage, no creative professional should be forced to create art or participate in a ceremony that violates their core convictions.”

Washington’s highest court confined the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision by saying that the U.S. Supreme Court’s condemnation of government hostility toward religion applies only to “adjudicatory bodies” and does not apply to executive-branch officials like the Washington attorney general. ADF attorneys explain in their petition filed last month that such a narrow view of religious freedom is wrong.

The Washington court’s ruling also conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court and other court precedents by allowing the government to force individuals to participate in sacred ceremonies that violate their faith and by empowering state officials to compel artists to create custom work celebrating events to which they object.

As the friend-of-the-court brief filed by 17 states explains, “just like other works of art, Stutzman’s custom wedding floral arrangements are inherently expressive. And in contrast to the court below, other courts have concluded similar artistic expressions enjoy First Amendment protections and that the government may not compel their creation under the guise of a generally applicable anti-discrimination law. See Telescope Media Grp. v. Lucero, … (8th Cir. 2019); Brush & Nib Studio, LC v. City of Phoenix, … (Ariz. Sup. Ct. September 16, 2019). Consequently, Stutzman’s custom wedding floral arrangements are entitled to at least the same protection that this Court and lower courts have long afforded music, video games, nonsensical poetry, dancing, and abstract painting.” [hyperlinks added]

“Ms. Stutzman regularly serves and hires LGBT individuals…,” the brief filed by members of Congress notes. “Ms. Stutzman’s petition…focuses on her customized wedding pieces—artistic expression that is wholly different from the vast majority of commercial products and services sold by public businesses and individuals throughout the country. This Court thus can rule for Ms. Stutzman without calling into question anti-discrimination laws.”

In addition to giving the Washington attorney general a pass for religious hostility because he is not a judge, the Washington Supreme Court opinion did not address anything that Masterpiece Cakeshop—and other recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra and Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31—had to say about free speech and expression.

In the Masterpiece case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Colorado’s decision to punish Jack Phillips for living and working consistently with his religious beliefs about marriage, just as Stutzman has been trying to do while enduring lawsuits from the Washington attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union. The two sued Stutzman after she declined, because of her faith, to personally participate in—and design custom floral arrangements celebrating—the same-sex wedding of a customer she had served for nearly 10 years.

Rather than take part in an event that violates her faith, Stutzman referred Robert Ingersoll, whom she considers a friend, to several nearby florists. The two then discussed his wedding plans, they hugged, and Ingersoll left. He never filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. The attorney general chose to pursue Stutzman only because of news reports based on social media posts.

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