Jim and Mary O'Reilly
Tucked away into the rolling hills of Vermont lies the Wildflower Inn, a picturesque bed and breakfast and the home of the owners, the O’Reilly family. Despite the beautiful surroundings, the Inn was mired in over a decade of ugly controversy over the rights of it’s owners to operate according to their faith.
A local wedding coordinator working for the inn falsely told a caller that the inn would not allow a same-sex reception in order to offer event services through her personal business. The inn’s actual business practice was to honestly disclose Jim and Mary O’Reilly’s Catholic religious convictions while agreeing to serve everyone in accordance with the law – a practice approved by the Vermont Human Rights Commission in 2005. Nevertheless, the same-sex couple filed charges against the inn.
After the wedding coordinator resigned, the inn stopped hosting wedding events of any kind three months before the lawsuit even began. But the persecution of the Wildflower Inn continued. Jim and Mary offered a settlement of everything the ACLU and Human Rights Commission asked for, but they not only rejected it, but actually brought more charges. They demanded that the inn pay $10,000 to the commission and $20,000 into a charitable trust set up by the homosexual couple. Alliance Defending Freedom defended the O’Reillys in court, and ultimately, the Human Rights Commission admitted that Jim and Mary had done no wrong. However, they still had to make the payments in order to end the ordeal.
“The Wildflower Inn has always served--and will continue to serve--everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage,” said Jim. “Our beliefs haven’t changed, but we do have lives to live, a family to love, a business to grow, and a community to serve. Small businesses like ours cannot match the limitless resources of the government and the ACLU. Ongoing litigation like this can cripple any small business and the livelihood of its owners, so we’re relieved to put this ordeal behind us.”
The O’Reilly’s weren’t the first or the last bed and breakfast to face lawsuits over their views on marriage: Alliance Defending Freedom also defended the Timbercreek Bed and Breakfast and the Aloha Bed and Breakfast owners’ rights to run their businesses according to their faith.
Learn more about the effects of redefining marriage.
Share this page
Baker v. Wildflower Inn
What's at stake
- The freedom to operate a business according to your deeply held beliefs without the fear of being punished by the government.
- The ability to own and operate a business without hosting events with which you disagree.
In 2005, two women asked Wildflower Inn, a Vermont bed and breakfast owned and operated by Jim and Mary O’Reilly, to host their civil-union ceremony. Jim agreed to host the ceremony because he believed that Vermont law required him to do so, but he explained that hosting such an event conflicted with his deeply held religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. The women filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, which conducted an investigation and concluded that Jim had complied with the state’s public accommodation laws.
Relying on that official ruling, the O’Reillys established a practice of agreeing to host same-sex ceremonies, while informing customers that hosting such events violated their family’s belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. In 2010, an events coordinator that the O’Reillys had hired failed to comply with this established practice. Instead, she turned down a request to host a same-sex reception and offered her personal wedding-coordination services to the prospective customer. The same-sex couple involved then contacted the ACLU and sued Jim and Mary in Vermont state court. Worse yet, the Vermont Human Rights Commission, which had approved Jim’s practice, got involved to support the charges against the O’Reillys. It turns out the commission’s director was serving on the board of the Vermont ACLU.
Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies came to Jim and Mary’s defense. They explained to the plaintiffs and the ACLU that the events coordinator had acted without the O’Reillys’ knowledge and that Jim and Mary conducted themselves consistent with the commission’s prior ruling. But the ACLU was not interested in the O’Reillys’ good faith or the fact that they had stopped hosting wedding events months before the lawsuit was filed. The ACLU argued that even stating a religious objection to holding a same-sex ceremony violated state law and asked for punitive damages against Jim and Mary for “reprehensible conduct” and “malice.
Because continuing to fight the ACLU and the state threatened to cripple their small business and their ability to earn a living, the O’Reillys decided to settle the lawsuit. Jim and Mary obtained a statement by the plaintiffs and the Vermont Human Rights Commission that they had always acted in good faith in compliance with the commission’s prior ruling. In return, they agreed to pay $10,000 to the commission and $20,000 to a charitable trust set up by the plaintiffs.
Our role in this case
Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies defended Jim and Mary O’Reilly and the Wildflower Inn when they came under activist attack for communicating their religious beliefs about marriage.
A family-owned and -operated bed-and-breakfast has agreed to a settlement with the Vermont Human Rights Commission and two women who wanted to have a same-sex wedding reception at the inn’s privately owned property. The settlement affirms that the Wildflower Inn acted in good faith in the administration of its business.
Share this page