Faithful Christians are Being Forced Out of Commerce
The case against Baronelle Stutzman is a judicial assault on the First Amendment.
On February 20, 2015, the Attorney General of the State of Washington offered a settlement to Baronelle Stutzman, the Christian woman who owns Arlene’s Floral Shop. She would have to pay a fine and pledge to support gay marriages as a florist.
Some think, What’s the big deal? She would just have to make floral arrangements for such weddings but not participate in them. But this argument separates vocation from faith in a way that is unacceptable to any serious Christian. The plain fact is that she is being compelled to exercise her artistry on behalf of activities she morally opposes. If you don’t see the distinction, do you think a Jewish t-shirt shop owner should be compelled to design and print T-shirts for an anti-Jewish parade?
Stutzman understands the point and so has refused the offer: “I never imagined that using my God-given talents and abilities, and doing what I love to do for over three decades,” she says, “would become illegal. Our state would be a better place if we respected each other’s differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences. Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.”
She explains that she has served gay men and lesbians for years. In fact, the man who asked her to do the floral arrangement for the wedding in question was a long-time customer. So she was not discriminating against individuals, but simply declining to participate in an action that violated her moral convictions.
Her letter to the Washington attorney general continued:
Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.
What is happening in the Evergreen State is an abuse of police power. It is an effort to compel a Christian engaged in commerce to deny her formed conscience or face the boot of the state.
Some in the media frame this story by claiming that a woman who defends marriage reality is opposed to “marriage equality.” But this is Orwellian propaganda. The nature of marriage is what is at issue. While we recognize the human dignity of every human person — including those with same-sex attraction — no one can change the truth about marriage. That truth is not only a part of our deeply held religious beliefs, but written in the Natural Moral Law.
Marriage between one man and one woman, intended for life, open to life and formative of family, has been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of the universe. To limit marriage to heterosexual couples is not discriminatory. Homosexual couples cannot bring into existence through their union what marriage intends by its definition. To say this is not to be “anti-gay”; it is simply to defend marriage, family and the real common good.
There is another right at stake, the right of children to a mother and a father. The family is the first society into which children are born, learn to be fully human, grow in virtue, flourish and take their role in communities. Of course we care about the single parent family, but intact marriages and families are the glue of a healthy and happy social order. We can accommodate exceptions without obliterating the norm.
In the first two centuries of Christianity, Christians sought to serve in Roman society, but they had to avoid some occupations because they directly violated their faith. Soon, the state began trying to coerce Christians to apostatize. But this is the United States of America.
The First Amendment recognizes the free exercise of religion as a fundamental human right, but the very courts who have sworn to uphold that amendment are now undermining it. Christians who refuse to grant primacy to the state over their consciences are now being brought to heel with charges hauntingly close to the charges levied against the Christians in ancient Rome. The sooner we recognize this fundamental threat to human liberty, the better.