Every American should be free to live and work consistent with their faith. That certainly should be true for religious Americans who bring artistic talent to the marketplace — artists who serve anyone and yet, by the very nature of being an artist, cannot communicate every message. It would be a dangerous place for freedom if the government can dictate what an artist creates.
Unfortunately, Barronelle Stutzman lives and works in Washington state, and Washington is a dangerous state for freedom, indeed.
That was seen when all the power of the state was focused on one small-town floral arts store, where for decades Barronelle served her customers in line with her deeply held Christian convictions. From that firm foundation, she poured herself into creating custom floral arrangements to celebrate the special moments in her customers’ lives.
That’s what she does for anyone who comes in and exactly what she did when Rob Ingersoll first visited a decade ago: She served him and his partner, Curt. Over the years she created complex, intricate pieces to celebrate the couple’s anniversaries and Valentine’s Day. It didn’t matter that they identified as gay: Barronelle created, and the two were pleased with her exceptional creativity, amazing work, and thoughtful designs.
But then Rob asked her to do something she could not do for anyone: create custom floral arrangements to celebrate a wedding other than one between one man and one woman.
Barronelle’s faith teaches that marriage is a sacred covenant between a husband and wife, and that every marriage is inherently sacred. So Barronelle approaches the art of marriage as an exceptional creative engagement. She creates major pieces to celebrate the union, designs the bride’s corsage and attendants’ boutonnieres, and also helps before, during, and after the ceremony to ensure that the floral arrangements remain beautiful throughout. She decorates the venue, attends the ceremony, and takes part in the rituals of marriage, such as standing to honor the bride and groom or joining in prayer. Barronelle will greet guests, calm parents, and devote her heart to making the wedding a success. All this is part and parcel of her providing wedding arrangements.
So the day she faced her crisis of conscience, Barronelle gently took Rob’s hands and explained her faith to him, and how she could not use her art to celebrate his wedding — much less participate in it — without violating her faith. She referred Rob to several nearby florists, chatted with him about his wedding plans, and gave him a hug as he left the shop. She loved Rob and thought that this was just one time that friends agree to disagree.
Enter, stage left, Washington’s attorney general, the state’s highest law enforcement official. Without a formal complaint, he concocted a novel lawsuit, suing Barronelle both as the business owner and as a private individual. As matters progressed, he would disparage Barronelle’s faith as comparable to racists who refused to serve food to African Americans. And along with the attorney general’s attack, the American Civil Liberties Union also sued her.
Suddenly, the 40 years of love Barronelle poured into her profession and community could be crushed; the business she longed to pass on to her children might no longer be. Being sued personally, she could lose far more — her life savings and the retirement she hoped for. Meanwhile, the social media critics came forth, smearing and threatening her. In the face of all this, she had no choice but to stand for her faith.
Happily, her courage was honored in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court granted review and sent her case back to the Washington court to reconsider in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case.
In Masterpiece, the state of Colorado had punished cake artist Jack Phillips for cleaving to his deeply held beliefs about marriage after he declined to create a custom wedding cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding. In ruling for Jack, the U.S. Supreme Court condemned Colorado’s open hostility toward him on the basis of his religion.
Yet when the Washington Supreme Court again reviewed Barronelle’s case, it all but ignored the basic rule that the state must be neutral toward religion. Instead, it rendered an opinion which tracked almost verbatim its prior decision giving the attorney general a free pass to be hostile toward Barronelle’s faith.
So on Sept. 11, Barronelle again asked U.S. Supreme Court to review her case and confirm that Washington state cannot force her to create art that conflicts with her faith and her conscience. As the high court said in Masterpiece, it is the “State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.” And that is as true for the Washington attorney general as it is for the Colorado commissioners.
Should Barronelle win, it will be good news for all Americans that their right — your right — to use your creative talents without the government telling you what to create or what to say is protected. We can disagree on what marriage means. But we should all agree that the government shouldn’t be the art director.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.