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After nearly a decade of litigation in defense of her religious liberty, 77-year-old Barronelle Stutzman, a wife, business owner, grandmother of 25, and great-grandmother of 7, is passing the legal torch to those she has inspired with her courage.
Her announcement was made in a sobering meeting at Alliance Defending Freedom’s Washington D.C. office, where she was joined by her husband, Darold, members of the media, and ADF General Counsel Kristen Waggoner. The announcement came after attorneys from both sides reached a settlement.
Per the terms of the settlement, Barronelle will pay plaintiff Robert Ingersoll $5,000 and Alliance Defending Freedom will be withdrawing their petition for the Supreme Court to reconsider Barronelle’s case after the Court denied review in July 2021.
Kristen Waggoner also noted that, in the trial courts, the ACLU fought for the right to take Barronelle’s personal assets from her and pursue ruinous damages against her. In reflection of Barronelle’s character, Kristen emphasized that beyond monetary or legal terms, the most meaningful takeaway from this settlement is that Barronelle never once had to compromise her convictions, saying, “Barronelle is not only my dear friend. She is my hero.”
The settlement, in summary, brings the legal battle that Barronelle has fought for nine years to an end and absolves her of any fines or fees from the litigation throughout, which in litigation of this caliber often results in millions of dollars in financial damages.
“…And that was a line I could not cross, even for friendship,” Barronelle said in statement.
“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.
So, as gently as I could, I recommended some other floral artists whom I knew would do a great job for Rob. My decision was not intended to hurt him, but to honor my sincere and deepest beliefs. We hugged and he left and I thought we remained friends who kindly disagreed on an issue deeply important to both of us.”
Stutzman’s difficulties started in 2012 when a longtime customer asked her to make a custom floral arrangement for the customer’s same-sex wedding. Stutzman explained to the customer, who Barronelle often refers to as her “friend Rob,” that she could not produce the arrangement for the ceremony based on her “sincerely held religious beliefs” and referred the customer to three other florists. Later that day, the customer’s partner began discussing the conversation on his Facebook page, and in time the Washington State attorney general picked up the situation and filed a lawsuit against Barronelle, claiming that state law required her to make art celebrating same-sex weddings upon customer request or lose her business. The case became known as Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington.
After the ACLU joined the lawsuit, a Washington state trial court ruled against Barronelle, ordering her to “pay attorney’s fees both personally and professionally, as well as threatening everything she owned.” Additionally, after Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) took up the case and petitioned the Washington Supreme Court, the state’s high court also ruled against her, claiming that the government “can force creative professionals to create artistic expression and participate in events in which they disagree.”
In light of the Supreme Court’s 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, the nation’s High Court vacated the ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court, asking them to revisit the case, in light of the 2018 ruling that vindicated Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who had also declined to perform custom art, in this case, a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. The Washington State Supreme Court again ruled against Barronelle, and the Supreme Court refused to hear her case after a 2019 appeal by ADF.
303 Creative v. Elenis involves a legal battle over the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA.) ADF is spearheading the pre-enforcement challenge, which occurs when a party takes proactive legal action against a law before a client is found in violation of it. According to ADF, 303 Creative “bears on the legal issues presented” in Barronelle’s case and “should be considered” before the Supreme Court.
In 303 Creative, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law that would force Web designer Lorie Smith to express messages and celebrate events that violate her Christian faith. As a result, ADF has petitioned 303 Creative to the Supreme Court, which may choose to hear the case in the court’s upcoming term.
In response, Barronelle has said that she is at peace while “passing my legal torch to other artists such as Lorie Smith of 303 Creative in Colorado, whose case may well be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this term, and thanking God for the victories He’s so graciously given me.”
Religious liberty has been fiercely under attack for some time. While Barronelle Stutzman and Jack Phillips have made headlines in the last few years, their litigation timelines began in 2012 and 2013. While this reaches nearly a decade back, even these cases are contemporary to others who have faced the same legal battles.
Religious Liberty should not be a question in the American judicial system. As an imperative role to the American way of life, religious liberty should be the cornerstone of all liberties and should be revered by all Americans regardless of their particular faith or creed. The ACLU, once considered somewhat neutral in the litigation field, has taken a grossly aggressive position against religious liberty and free speech, though they have had no problem defending the KKK on multiple occasions.
It is unconscionable how the ACLU will acknowledge the hateful message of the KKK while defending their right to express it, but will push ruinous damages on an elderly woman who was simply living according to her convictions with no hateful message or application about her.
Barronelle Stutzman is a hero whose courage, grace, and commitment to Christ will embolden the next line of fighters to carry the banner of religious freedom high.
John Wesley Reid is the Editor-in-Chief at the Standing for Freedom Center. John has worked in Washington D.C. for several years covering politics, the Supreme Court, and church relations within the political sphere.
During his tenure in DC, he was a producer with CBN News, digital media director for the Family Research Council, and is a contributing author for various networks. John is published in the Christian Post, CBN News, Disrn, Family Research Council, and other publications. After serving in the Marine Corps, John studied political science at Biola University before beginning his career in journalism.