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Passing the baton in the battle for religious freedom

Florist Barronelle Stutzman faced tests all Christians will have to face

Barronelle Stutzman hugs a supporter after a 2016 court hearing. Associated Press/Photo by Elaine Thompson

Passing the baton in the battle for religious freedom
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After nearly nine long years of litigation, my friend and client Barronelle Stutzman has settled her case. It is the end of a heroic fight—one of the most important stands for religious freedom our nation has seen in many years—that has inspired millions of others in their own public and personal battles to live their faith without government interference.

Barronelle, a Washington state floral artist who’s now 77 and a great-grandmother, is at peace settling the lawsuit that was first brought against her nearly a decade ago; she can finally retire and allow her beloved employees to take over the business, Arlene’s Flowers. She also won’t have to pay ruinous attorneys’ fees—a threat she has faced for years.

Most importantly, Barronelle can take heart in this decision knowing she stayed true to her faith and conscience, without compromise. And the rest of us can take a page from her playbook.

Barronelle’s legal battle started when her friend and longtime client Rob asked her to design custom floral arrangements for his wedding ceremony with Curt Freed. Rather than participate in a ceremony that violated her faith, Barronelle referred Rob to several nearby florists. Barronelle and Rob then discussed the wedding plans, hugged, and Rob left. He never filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office, which brought an unprecedented action against Barronelle because of news reports based on social media posts. Later, Rob and Curt sued Barronelle through attorneys with the ACLU.

That’s when Alliance Defending Freedom got involved by proudly representing Barronelle in her fight for religious freedom.

Barronelle’s case has gone back and forth between the Washington Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, culminating in early July, when the Supreme Court declined to hear her case. That meant that Barronelle was liable to Rob and Curt for damages and to the ACLU for attorneys’ fees, expected to be in the millions of dollars. And at the ACLU’s request, the lower court held that this money could be collected not only from Barronelle’s business assets but her personal assets as well.

Miraculously, a new U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit decision involving another of ADF’s clients, Lorie Smith, and her website-design business, 303 Creative, allowed us to ask the court to reconsider whether to hear Barronelle’s case. And now, we have successfully settled Barronelle’s case for a mere $5,000 in return for withdrawing that request, allowing 303 Creative v. Elenis to step forward and become Arlene’s Flowers’ natural successor in asking for Supreme Court vindication of religious liberty and free speech for creative professionals.

It has been one of the highest privileges of my life to walk this long and often-difficult road with Barronelle and her husband Darold. I share their profound belief that, while God didn’t promise us vindication in court, He always honors faithfulness. And in Barronelle’s case, her faithfulness has brought its own sweet measure of victories.

Barronelle has never violated her conscience. This settlement is an end to a lengthy court case, not a change in her beliefs nor a submission of those beliefs to the government, the ACLU, or the culture. In a culture increasingly hostile to people of faith, we can take courage from the witness of Christians like Barronelle as each of us runs our own race with endurance.

Barronelle has always been true to herself and to God. Every Christian artist and professional will be tested—in fact, every Christian will be tempted to compromise their faith at times. Can we endure being mocked, threatened, and despised by those who reject our beliefs? My prayer is that we will not only be able to withstand persecution, but, like Barronelle, supernaturally exude love and joy in the midst of it.

Barronelle has never stopped giving a faithful witness for Christ. From her quiet flower shop to the studios of national television networks, she has presented millions of her fellow Americans with an unwavering example of faith, courage, charity, and commitment. They may not share her beliefs, but they cannot doubt that she lives her faith in a thoughtful and compassionate way.

Each of our own stories of faithful witness to Christ will build on the courageous sacrifice of Barronelle and others like her. She laid the groundwork that makes it possible for the Supreme Court to take a case like 303 Creative and definitively protect the rights of creative professionals like Lorie Smith, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop—who has been sued for the third time—and many like them who have been victimized by officials demanding compliance with government orthodoxy. The Supreme Court needs to affirm the principles that Barronelle has so beautifully represented, especially the right of all Americans to speak and live according to their conscience.

Kristen Waggoner

Kristen Waggoner is CEO, president, and general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.


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