Meet Barronelle Stutzman -- who is being treated as Washington State’s Public Enemy No. 1.
Stutzman is a grandmother, a devout Southern Baptist and the owner of a small flower shop. The 70-year-old Christian is also opposed to gay marriage — a religious belief that could cost Stutzman her business, her life-savings and even her home.
A Washington judge ruled Feb. 18 that Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, violated the law when she refused to provide flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding.
“If you disagree with the state - then you’re out of business,” she told me in an exclusive interview. “As a business owner, it’s really frightening that they can rule that everything I have will be lost because of my disagreement with a stand.”
Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom found Stutzman had violated the state consumer protection and anti-discrimination law. He rejected arguments that her actions were protected by her freedom of speech and religion.
The Seattle Times reported that Judge Ekstrom determined that “while religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren’t necessarily protected.”
So it’s okay to believe in God - so long as you don’t follow the tenets of your faith?
“For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief,” Ekstrom wrote in remarks reported by The Times. “The Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”
Kristen Waggoner, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, called the ruling “terrifying.”
“A government that can force you to say something and express a message that is so deeply contrary to your core beliefs is terrifying,” Waggoner told me. “We are entering a whole new realm when we force people to express themselves and use their heart, their head and their hands to create something that violates who they are.”
Waggoner accused Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson of being on a personal crusade to destroy the elderly grandmother.
“He’s using the full power of his office to personally and professionally destroy her,” she said. “He’s trying to send a message — you better shut up if you disagree or you are going to lose everything you own.”
Waggoner is referring to the Attorney General’s decision to seek legal fees and penalties not only against Arlene’s Flower shop - but also Stutzman personally.
The law allows for penalties of up to $2,000 per violation — and Waggoner said the flower shop has been inundated with requests to provide flowers to gay weddings. Each one of those requests would be a violation, she said.
“Every time someone comes in you get tagged with a $2,000 fine,” she said. “They’re setting her up.”
And should they lose the appeal, there’s a very real chance Stutzman could lose her home.
“The killer part is the attorneys fees and the court costs,” Waggoner said. “She is liable to the state and the American Civil Liberties Union.”
She estimated the costs of an appeal reaching well into seven figures.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office told The Seattle Times they anticipated going after both Stutzman and her business.
“The law is clear: if you choose to provide a service to couples of the opposite sex, you must provide the same service to same-sex couples,” the attorney general said in a prepared statement.
Stutzman told me she has no plans to renounce her faith or her religious beliefs - no matter what the state may do.
“There’s the ACLU’s side and the Attorney General’s side and then there’s God’s side,” she said. “Which side would you like to be on?”
Stutzman’s run-in with the government came about after what she thought was an innocent conversation with longtime customer Robert Ingersoll back in 2013.
Robert Ingersoll asked her to provide flowers for his upcoming wedding to Curt Freed.
“He came in and we were just chit chatting and he said that he was going to get married,” Stutzman recalled in court documents. “And I just put my hands on his and told him because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do his wedding.”
That led to a lawsuit — pitting the state of Washington along with the gay couple against Stutzman.
The legal battle has also served as a real life lesson for her 23 grandchildren. She hopes they learn that it’s important to stand up for their convictions.
“Don’t let someone bully you into doing what they want you to do if it’s against your convictions,” she said.
Waggoner said her client has been graceful under a barrage of hateful attacks.
“It’s all about name calling and bullying and shaming people into shutting up,” she said.
Remember when our elected leaders told us that same-sex marriage would not impact anyone? Remember how we were told to live and let live?
“We were sold a lie,” Waggoner told me. “It’s clear same-sex marriage does affect us. It’s depriving people of their freedom — of their God-given freedoms.”
And as Barronelle Stutzman, of Richland, Wash., learned — woe be to any Christian business owner who refuses to participate in a same-sex wedding.
“It’s me today,” Stutzman said. “I’m just a little grain of sand — but it’s you tomorrow.”