Supreme Court Leaves Americans Guessing About the Meaning of Tolerance | Opinion

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Friday not to hear floral artist Barronelle Stutzman's case leaves freedom of religion and expression in an uncertain state. But one thing is perfectly clear: activists and their powerful legal and corporate allies were ready and able to take down a humble Christian grandmother simply for living her faith.

Barronelle is a 76-year-old floral artist in Richland, Washington, whom I represent. For nearly 10 years, she served her friend and customer, Rob Ingersoll—creating custom floral arrangements for special occasions, including Valentine's Day and anniversary celebrations for Rob and his partner. But when Rob asked her to make custom arrangements for his same-sex wedding, she politely declined, explaining that she could not celebrate an event that violated her sincerely held beliefs about marriage.

Barronelle referred her friend to other florists she trusted would do a good job. They hugged, and he left. She thought they parted as friends who simply had different views of marriage. But neither Barronelle's history with Rob nor her longtime employment of people who identify as gay and bisexual were enough to save her from being steamrolled by progressive bullies.

In an unprecedented lawsuit, the Washington state attorney general sued Barronelle in both her professional and personal capacities, even though no one had filed a complaint with the state government. The ACLU then piled on with a second lawsuit. Alliance Defending Freedom has defended her in court ever since.

In 2017, Barronelle petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent her case back to the Washington Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop. In that case, which involved Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips (whom I also had the privilege of representing), the High Court made clear that government officials cannot act with animus against religion or religious believers. Yet the Washington Supreme Court disregarded the clear animus of state officials and ruled against Barronelle a second time, copying much of its first ruling verbatim.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied Barronelle her day at the highest court, the ACLU could demand that she pay an enormous amount—potentially seven figures—in attorneys' fees, all because she politely declined to violate the very religious beliefs that inspired her to serve others through her floral art in the first place. This is not justice.

This small-town family business owner served everyone; she simply could not express all messages or participate in all ceremonies. Yet the Washington attorney general, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, Amazon, Microsoft and numerous others lined up to make an example of her. This is the worst example of cancel culture, weaponized through the court system by state governments and gigantic corporations, and it is an insult to our nation's founding principles.

SCOTUS Votes Against California Law
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: A view of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. The judges ruled that California will no longer release donor information to the IRS. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

While the case's precedent is confined to Washington state, it reflects a growing trend. State and local governments are using Orwellian "antidiscrimination" laws against powerless people like Barronelle, threatening them with financial ruin or even criminal penalties and jail time. And they leave many everyday Americans guessing as to what extent the First Amendment's promises truly extend to them.

Justice Neil Gorsuch (who wanted to accept Barronelle's case) noted as much in his Fulton v. City of Philadelphia concurrence two weeks ago. He stated that "Individuals and groups across the country will pay the price—in dollars, in time and in continued uncertainty about their religious liberties" until the Supreme Court clarifies the law on this issue. He elaborated by discussing the aftermath of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Jack Phillips is still being dragged through the courts—just last month a Colorado district court ruled against him because he declined a transgender activist's demand that he create a cake celebrating a "gender transition."

The Supreme Court's decision Friday is a grave miscarriage of justice. And it will only lead to confusion and legal exposure for others, like Kentucky photographer Chelsey Nelson and Colorado web designer Lorie Smith. We must ask how many more Barronelles and Jacks will it take before the madness stops and we return to first principles.

The Court will have plenty of opportunities ahead to help stem the tide and return to those principles. Chelsey's or Lorie's case could reach the Court, as could several others in the pipeline—including, potentially, another one out of Washington state. Any one of these will give the justices plenty of options when it comes to protecting critical First Amendment freedoms.

Good faith differences exist when it comes to views on marriage and human sexuality. Allowing the government to force individuals to express messages or celebrate ideas that violate their convictions is not the path to a tolerant or durable republic. At the end of the day, the Arlene's Flowers case transcends the injustice done to Barronelle and the issue of marriage; the question before us is whether we can debate such issues at all.

The First Amendment promises Barronelle and other creative professionals the freedom to peacefully pursue their passions and use their talents in accord with their religious beliefs. ADF will continue to stand right alongside them. Our heritage of liberty, celebrated this past Independence Day weekend, demands nothing less.

Kristen Waggoner is general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom. She argued Arlene's Flowers at the Washington Supreme Court and Masterpiece Cakeshop at the U.S. Supreme Court. Follow Kristen on Twitter @KWaggonerADF or follow ADF @AllianceDefends.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.