Yesterday, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Eckstrom ruled that Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, can be held personally liable in lawsuits that resulted from Arlene’s Flowers decision not to decorate for a same-sex ceremony.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the first lawsuit against the Richland grandmother but a second lawsuit was later filed by the ACLU on behalf of the customers. The lawsuits were brought not only against Arlene’s Flowers but also against Barronelle Stutzman personally.
Lawyers for Mrs. Stutzman had argued that it was inappropriate to sue her personally because it was a decision made in the operation of her business, but Judge Eckstrom disagreed.
As a result of this decision, the government can go after both the business assets of Arlene’s Flowers and personal assets of Barronelle Stutzman to collect attorney’s fees should their lawsuits prevail.
Responding to the ruling, Kristen Waggoner, an Alliance Defending Freedom Attorney for Barronelle Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers said, “In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not intimidate citizens into speaking and acting contrary to their faith under threat of severe punishment. The government is sending a clear message to Barronelle and the people of Washington: dare to disagree with the government, and you put your home, your family business, and your life savings at risk.”
Judge Eckstrom is expected to rule on a summary judgment motion in the next week.
Trial is currently scheduled for March 23rd.
The narrow question of personal liability in a specific lawsuit is not itself a conspiracy against conscience rights and religious freedom.
However, there is little doubt that the government’s ability to go after the personal assets of business owners who prefer not to be part of certain events will continue to chill the free exercise of religion that until recently was celebrated and protected in America.
Whatever the outcome of this specific case, the real solution is a state legislature that respects a marketplace of ideas that makes room for people of different backgrounds, faiths, and perspectives.
But the legislature won’t act unless the public insists on it.
If you are concerned that the government is suing grandmothers because of their beliefs about marriage and sexuality, please contact your state legislators and ask them to support protections for conscience rights and religious freedom. Then encourage your friends and family to do the same.
Every American is guaranteed the freedom to live and work faithfully.
The Washington State Attorney General is working hard to change that.
Don’t let him win.