Tri-City Herald

Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

Back to the Washington state florist: Was Stutzman seeking right to shun all gay customers?

To no one’s huge surprise, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled against Baronelle Stutzman for refusing to provide flowers for a gay friend’s wedding. Also to no one’s surprise, she (that is, her lawyers) immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may get a new justice soon.

So what is the key question in this story for journalists striving to cover the actual arguments in the case? Once again, the small print in this story is that that Stutzman wasn’t refusing to serve gay people in all instances, like the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins during the Civil Rights era. Instead, she was claiming the right to refuse to provide flowers in one doctrinally defined situation -- a marriage rite.

But did mainstream news reporters make that crucial distinction?

In almost all cases the answer is "no." We’ll start with what the Seattle Times said:

A Richland florist who refused to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding violated anti-discrimination law, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court ruled unanimously that Barronelle Stutzman discriminated against longtime customers Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed when she refused to do the flowers for their 2013 wedding because of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead, Stutzman suggested several other florists in the area who would help them.
“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor. The court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history,” Ingersoll and Freed said in a statement.
Stutzman and her attorneys said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also held out hope that President Donald Trump would issue an executive order protecting religious freedom, which was a campaign pledge.

The article went on to rehearse the facts of the case and then quote several people (the state attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union attorney for the gay couple) who were at a Seattle news conference. This went on for a number of paragraphs.

The Seattle Times gave two paragraphs to a press release from Stutzman’s attorneys.

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Arlene's Flowers vs. Washington state: This religious liberty battle keeps on going

Arlene's Flowers vs. Washington state: This religious liberty battle keeps on going

Unfortunately, I missed quite the event in my back yard on Tuesday: A hearing before the Washington State Supreme Court on what’s known as the “Arlene’s Flowers case.” Seated in an auditorium about seven miles from where I live, legal teams in argued the crucial church-state case, Robert Ingersoll & Curt Freed v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc.

I’ve covered the saga of Baronelle Stutzman before in GetReligion, so please click on that link to refresh your memories about the mainstream press coverage of what led to the lawsuit as well as what certainly appears to be the animus that the local American Civil Liberties Union and State Attorney General Bob Ferguson have against this florist.

Outside the auditorium where the hearing was held, there were a lot of pro-Stutzman demonstrators clamoring for her; an unusual sight in this bluest of blue states. The Tri-City Herald, a daily in eastern Washington that’s Stutzman’s hometown newspaper had the best reporting on the hearing, so I’ll start with that: 

BELLEVUE  -- Hundreds packed a college theater Tuesday to hear arguments in the case of a Richland flower shop and the same-sex couple who say they were discriminated against when the owner refused to make arrangements for their wedding.
Barronelle Stutzman, who owns Arlene’s Flowers, cited her relationship with Jesus Christ when she turned down the request of longtime customer Robert Ingersoll and his partner, Curt Freed.
On Tuesday, after 3 1/2 years of legal wrangling, Stutzman, Ingersoll and Freed found themselves seated in the front row before the state Supreme Court.

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