Hey Indianapolis Star, the florist has a name — and that's an important point you missed.
In an in-depth story this week, the Star attempted to explain "What the 'religious liberty' law really means for Indiana."
Scare quotes aside, the story actually wasn't bad, particularly for a newspaper that showed its Poker hand Tuesday with a front-page editorial voicing its displeasure with the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act:
In the "what it means" story, the Star looks to the Pacific Northwest for an example of a religious freedom case:
Consider this case from Washington state.
A florist, citing her relationship with Jesus Christ, refused to sell flowers for a gay couple's wedding. A court recently ruled, even when weighing her religious convictions, that she violated local nondiscrimination laws. News reports say she turned down a settlement offer and continues to appeal her case.
The florist declined to arrange the flowers, and so in some sense this confirms the fears of religious freedom law opponents that a door has been opened to discrimination. But she lost in court, and so this backs the supporters who say RFRA doesn't usurp local nondiscrimination laws.
The problem with that quick rundown of the Washington state case? It fails to provide any true context or insight.
Is the Washington florist a bigot who simply hates gay people? Some readers will jump to that conclusion, given the lack of details provided by the Star.
Barronelle Stutzman is a florist who employs gay people and serves gay clients.
In fact, the gay couple at the center of this fight were longtime customers. But she refused to provide flowers for their wedding because she believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
More background on Stutzman's case from the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents her:
The suit, Arlene’s Flowers v. Ferguson, filed in Benton County Superior Court, explains that the problem for Stutzman was promoting the same-sex ceremony, not serving customers who identify as homosexual. She has served such customers, including the one suing her in a separate lawsuit, for many years and even offered him a list of referrals to florists that would prepare flowers for his ceremony.
“Barronelle has been creating floral arrangements for Robert Ingersoll for nearly nine years,” the countersuit states. “Barronelle enjoys the warm and cordial relationship that she has developed with Mr. Ingersoll…. Barronelle has known that Robert Ingersoll identifies himself as gay throughout most of their nine-year relationship. That fact never made any difference in the way Mr. Ingersoll was treated as a customer. Arlene’s Flowers routinely designs floral arrangements for other gay and lesbian clientele. Arlene’s Flowers has also had openly gay employees.”
If you're interested in even more background, GetReligion recently highlighted the Los Angeles Times' reporting on a judge's ruling in Stutzman's case:
Did Stutzman exercise her freedom of religion? Did she violate the rights of the gay couple? Or both?
In an earlier GetReligion post, Greg Scott, the Alliance Defending Freedom's vice president for media communications, made this argument:
There is a fundamental difference between “denying service to same-sex couples” ... and the actual issue — punishment of citizens who resist government compelled speech and expression mandates. Buying generic products and basic services is not the same thing as asking someone to create artistic works or expression to promote or celebrate an event. The question on the table is not whether a person should be denied the former class of marketplace transactions (they shouldn’t be), but if the government should have the power to threaten citizens for choosing to not communicate a creative message or participate in an event that violates their conscience. A government that has the power to tell you what you can’t say is bad enough. A government that tells you what you must say in order to avoid ruin is terrifying.
The Associated Press reported that Stutzman was fined $1,000 last week for refusing to provide flowers for the same-sex wedding.
Are the above details relevant to the Washington state case? Of course.
Did the Star truly serve readers with its short rundown attributed to "news reports say?" Definitely not.
In a discussion among your GetReligionistas, tmatt made this point about Stutzman's case: "It's like a Jewish baker serving Christians for years -- then declining to bake communion bread."
That sounds like a religion angle. A religious freedom angle even -- minus the scare quotes.