Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips: Florist Barronelle Stutzman deserves another chance at justice

Any day now, my friend Barronelle Stutzman and her attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom will hear whether the U.S. Supreme Court will take her case.

Both Barronelle and I serve people, and we’re happy to serve everyone. I’m a cake artist, and she’s a floral designer — the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, a small shop she inherited from her mom in Washington state. Both of us find it especially gratifying when customers invite us to design and create iconic aspects of their wedding celebrations. We learn about the couple and craft the custom flower arrangements and wedding cakes that often serve as focal points in their celebrations.

Floral artist Barronelle Stutzman

Floral artist Barronelle Stutzman (Alliance Defending Freedom)



But we’re not friends just because we love weddings. Barronelle and I both have been forced into long, hard legal battles. We didn’t start these fights, but we’re at the center of a national conversation about the First Amendment and the rights of creative professionals.

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We’re both quiet, Christian business owners who were asked to use our talents to create custom art celebrating a view of marriage that contradicts our faith. We both believe that marriage is sacred and that God designed it as a union between one man and one woman. But when we politely declined to participate in celebrating something we didn’t believe, we both found ourselves targeted by the government.

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In Barronelle’s story, the details are important; her voice chokes up a little when she tells it. Rob Ingersoll was a friend and long-time customer for nearly 10 years, Barronelle had created over 30 flower arrangements for him. She knew Rob was gay, but that didn’t affect their friendship. When Rob asked her to arrange the flowers for his same-sex wedding, Barronelle gave the decision a lot of thought.

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After praying about the situation with her husband, Barronelle knew she couldn’t accept Rob’s request. So she took him aside, held his hands, and explained her religious conflict. The two continued to talk, and she asked about his engagement story. Before he left, Barronelle referred Rob to three nearby florists she knew would do a good job for him. They hugged, and Barronelle hoped they would stay friends.

Arlene's Flowers, Richland, Wash.

Arlene's Flowers, Richland, Wash.

Because of this decision guided by her religious convictions, Barronelle became the target of the Washington attorney general’s highly publicized lawsuit — initiated without a complaint from Rob. That lawsuit and another one later brought by the ACLU have taken away her wedding business and now threaten to destroy her financially.

The state of Washington has turned Barronelle’s life upside-down just because it disagrees with her beliefs about marriage. She deserves better. She deserves the freedom to celebrate marriages that are consistent with her faith — without the government harassing her.

When news of Barronelle’s decision hit the media, Rob was inundated with enough offers for free floral designs that he could have decorated 20 weddings. But because of the attorney general’s lawsuit, Barronelle was inundated with hate-filled phone calls, e-mails, and Facebook messages that contained profanity, attacks on her faith, and threats against her safety, including a threat to burn down her shop.

More than six years later, Barronelle remains in litigation. Losing these cases could cost her nearly everything she owns. I know some of what she’s going through. I’ve lived it. And she sat in the U.S. Supreme Court near me watching my attorney argue my case in front of the justices.

After hearing my case, the Supreme Court said that my relig­ious beliefs about marriage “are protected views,” and that the gov­ernment must treat those beliefs with tolerance and respect. Because my state’s hostility toward my beliefs was so blatant, the Supreme Court didn’t fully address all the questions about my rights as an artist and creator.

In 2018, the Supreme Court looked at Barronelle’s case in light of mine and decided to send it back to the Washington Supreme Court for reconsideration.

In June of last year, I was disappointed when the Washington court punished Barronelle again and reissued most of its previous decision word for word. The court concluded that, even though government commissions like the one in my case can’t act with hostility toward religion, government officials like the Washington attorney general are free to do just that. That makes no sense.

But now my friend Barronelle has another chance at justice. The Supreme Court has already said that “reasonable and sincere people” of faith hold the “decent and honorable” beliefs we share. If you knew Barronelle like I do, you would know that she’s not only reasonable and sincere but also remarkably kind.

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The state of Washington has turned Barronelle’s life upside-down just because it disagrees with her beliefs about marriage. She deserves better. She deserves the freedom to celebrate marriages that are consistent with her faith — without the government harassing her.

The Supreme Court established important principles in my case, but there’s more to be said. That court should hear Barronelle’s case, undo the ruling that threatens to bankrupt her, and declare that creative professionals who serve everyone, like Barronelle and I do, need not create custom art celebrating marriages that violate our faith.