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A Washington florist who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding rejected an offer from the state to settle a discrimination case by paying a $2,000 fine.
Barronelle Stutzman, a 70-year-old grandmother, wouldn’t provide flowers from her shop in Richland, Washington, for the 2013 wedding of Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed.
When longtime customer Ingersoll came to Arlene’s Flowers and asked for the flowers, the devout Southern Baptist told him her ‘relationship with Jesus Christ’ wouldn’t allow her to do the wedding.
Her rejection led to multiple lawsuits, including one from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
If the lawsuits are successful, Stutzman could be required to pay damages and legal fees that far exceed the attorney general’s offer to settle the matter.
In addition to the $2,000 fine, the settlement Stutzman rejected said if the florist chose to continue selling flowers for weddings she would have to sell the items to all couples, including same-sex couples.
In a letter to Ferguson, Stutzman wrote she ‘never imagined that using my God-given talents and abilities, and doing what I love to do for over three decades, would become illegal’.
She added: ‘Our state would be a better place if we respected each other’s differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences.
‘Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.
‘Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.”
‘I cannot sell that precious freedom.’
The offer from Ferguson came after Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom rejected arguments that Stutzman’s actions were protected by her freedoms of speech and religion.
The First Amendment protects religious beliefs but not necessarily actions based on those beliefs, Ekstrom ruled.
The state has the authority to prohibit discrimination and Stutzman can be held personally liable for damages if she breaks bias laws, according to the judge.
Kristen Waggoner, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, called the ruling ‘terrifying’ and said Ferguson was targeting Stutzman, Fox News reported.
She said: ‘He’s using the full power of his office to personally and professionally destroy her.
‘He’s trying to send a message — you better shut up if you disagree or you are going to lose everything you own.’
Ferguson maintains his objective is not Stutzman’s financial ruin.
He said: ‘My primary goal has always been to bring about an end to the defendants’ unlawful conduct and to make clear that I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
‘Before this case began, my office wrote to Ms Stutzman, asking her to comply with state law.
Had she agreed to no longer discriminate, my office would not have filed suit, and Ms Stutzman would not have paid any costs, fees or penalties.
‘After lengthy proceedings, the court has ruled, the law is clear, and the state prevailed on all counts.’
Stutzman plans to appeal Judge Ekstrom’s ruling.