“…by this ruling, ordinary citizens have no freedom to operate vocationally according to their deepest-held convictions.”
The great thundering arm of the state has acted to advance justice. Whom did this brave arm, this noble limb, crush? Which anarchist activist is the just victim of the blind fury of American governance? What fearsome criminal has occasioned this brave and noble stand in the name of virtue?
An elderly Southern Baptist grandmother who worked for many years as a florist, that’s who. A kindly woman beloved by her community.
The crime of Baronelle Stutzman was this: based on her religious convictions, she informed a long-time customer and friend named Rob Ingersoll that she could not provide flowers for his same-sex wedding. She referred him to another florist. Initially, things seemed fine, but later he brought suit against her. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) outlines the case:
the American Civil Liberties Union and the Washington Attorney General claim that she is guilty of unlawful discrimination when she acted consistent with her faith and declined to use her creative skills to beautify the same-sex ceremony of a long-time customer, Robert Ingersoll, and another man, Curt Freed.
On Thursday, the State of Washington ruled against Baronelle. As ADF summarized, “the Washington Supreme Court concluded that the government can force her—and, by extension, other Washingtonians—to create artistic expression and participate in events with which they disagree.”
Let me give four quick reactions to this gut-wrenching decision.
First, this is a travesty of justice. The state ruled wrongly here. Instead of advancing religious liberty, the court has acted to crush it. It has targeted a conscionable religious person and made an example out of Baronelle. It has signaled that citizens should not be free to live and act according to their deepest principles.
This is deeply, terribly wrong. I do not state such a strong conclusion on purely religious or biblical grounds. The purest atheist should agree to the full. Think about the precedent this sets: a Jew who owns a t-shirt business must make shirts for a neo-Nazi rally. An African-American web designer must create a site for a Klan affiliate. A supporter of pro-choice policy who has a ghostwriting business must write a book for a pro-life author. I could give many more examples that fit this precedent, but the point is clear: by this ruling, ordinary citizens have no freedom to operate vocationally according to their deepest-held convictions.
Second, celebrities are currently doing just what Baronelle did, and winning praise. Marc Jacobs refused to dress Melania Trump for the inauguration. Several members of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots say they will not attend the official White House recognition of their victory. Numerous Rockettes declined to perform for the new President. In these and other instances, our double-minded culture has lauded such actions. It’s heroic, we learn, to fail to perform requested business services for conservatives, Republicans, and Christians. But to fail to perform requested business services for a gay person is categorically wrong.
There are differences here. Jacobs wasn’t sued by Melania Trump, for example. But there is a clear and present double standard operating in American cultural life today. Remember, this is not unfair because an evangelical Christian is involved. It is unfair because a citizen’s religious liberty, the “first freedom” of American public life, is compromised. People of every background, every ideological perspective, should feel their blood chill in reading of this decision.
If it’s legitimate for members of the Rockettes to refuse to perform for the President due to opposing political convictions, it’s legitimate for a florist to decline to provide flowers for a gay wedding.
Third, we must not stop supporting religious liberty for all people. This ruling is a signal to every freedom-loving, fairness-supporting American citizen to remain at stations. The fight for religious liberty goes on. It does not go on only for evangelicals. It goes on for every person.
In terrible moments like this one, I am reminded of the importance of Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF has provided free legal representation to Baronelle during this travail. This is what ADF does for all their clients. I do not know the total cost of such representation in this instance, but I can imagine what the top-flight attorneys of ADF could charge, and can guess that normal billing would likely leave the average citizen without a bank account. Instead, ADF has stood beside Baronelle, has helped her tremendously, and is representing her in her appeal of the decision. God bless chief attorney Kristen Waggoner, Michael Farris, Alan Sears, Greg Scott, and the whole ADF team.
Fourth, we should support Baronelle, and stand beside her in her hour of trying. Pray for this dear woman. Watch this moving video about her. Then, give anything—even $5—to support her in her ongoing legal battle. Give directly to her cause—here is the direct link. All gifts to this EFCA-approved organization will be matched.
Again, the best and most consequential thing we can do here is to petition our heavenly Father on Baronelle’s behalf. Any fair-minded person can and should support Baronelle, but the church has a divine call to stand alongside those who suffer (see Hebrews 13:3). And do not forget the thick and terrible irony here: in a world of lies, with evil everywhere at hand, an agent of American government is acting to smash not a terrorist, not a law-breaker, but a well-loved woman who has done nothing other than live out her religious beliefs. This is wrong. This is a travesty.
Justice has miscarried this day.