Religious Liberty on Trial

In 2013, Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist, refused to provide floral services for a same-sex wedding, citing her Christian belief that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman.  She was sued by the state of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union.  A lower court ruled against her and last week the Supreme Court of Washington refused her appeal and upheld the ruling of the lower court.  Ms. Stutzman is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom and has vowed to appeal the Washington ruling to the Supreme Court.  Details of the case can be found in the article linked below from Crux online:

https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2017/02/20/christian-florist-loses-religious-liberty-case-will-appeal-u-s-supreme-court/

It ought to be needless to say, but there are some serious problems with the ruling of the Washington State Supreme Court.  First and foremost is the assumption that marriage, as defined by the State, trumps marriage as defined by the Church.  In most religious traditions, marriage is a religious commitment, a covenant, a sacrament or, regardless of the language used, a relationship between a man and a woman that is not only between the man and the woman, but between the couple and God.  This understanding of marriage in the Judeo-Christian tradition, to which Ms. Stutzman claims allegiance, pre-dates the U. S. Constitution and the Supreme Court of the United State’s ruling on same-sex marriage by something in the neighborhood of 5,000 years.  That ought to count for something.  But, the Washington State Supreme Court insists that it counts for nothing.  Washington re-defined marriage so that same-sex couples could legally marry in 2012 and, apparently in their minds, the entire edifice of Western law and tradition regarding marriage fell to its decree.  This is important, for Ms. Stutzman claims that she cannot accommodate an activity that she regards as counter to the will of the God she desires to serve.  To do so would mean abandoning her faith.  I find it difficult to believe that Washington State is expecting Ms. Stutzman to set aside her faith tradition of 5000 years in favor of a man-made law of four years ago.  That they refuse to see this as a First Amendment matter of religious liberty is remarkable.

Another problem with the ruling is the assumption that refusing to accommodate a same-sex wedding is the same as discrimination against people with a homosexual orientation.  This assumes that one’s sexual orientation and a sexual person’s activity are so bound together that refusing to condone the one is to necessarily discriminate against the other.  But, this is to conflate categories.  Consider that sex outside of marriage is legal, between same-sex or opposite-sex couples, or between entire groups.  Would a florist or baker or pizza parlor be required by law to provide services to a college orgy, or to a swinger’s party?  Many critics of same-sex marriage see it as a door to officially recognizing polygamous and polyamorous marriages, and that’s not an unreasonable concern.  Will Christian or Jewish or Muslim florists, bakers and photographers be required by law to provide their services to these wedding ceremonies if they’re recognized as legal?  (Or, maybe even before they’re declared legal: Recall that in at least two states, New Mexico and Oregon, professionals were successfully sued for refusing to accommodate same-sex weddings before that state got around to legally recognizing same-sex marriages.)  Those who claim object sexuality have marriage commitment ceremonies with objects, such as carousels, cars or, most famously, Erika Eiffel and the Eiffel Tower.  While these marriages aren’t recognized by the state (yet!), they’re certainly not illegal.  Will florists, bakers and photographers face discrimination lawsuits for refusing to accommodate object sexuality wedding ceremonies?  Apparently so, since opening a business is providing a “public accommodation,” and to refuse to accommodate any activity is to discriminate, not merely against that activity, but against that person.  If this seems far-fetched, remember that the Washington State penal code penalizes discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, not on the basis of whether a sexual person’s activities are legally recognized by the state.  If to refuse to accommodate a sexual person’s activity is the same as discriminating against his or her sexual orientation, the door is wide open.

People, in the minds of Washington state, are what they do, so to discriminate against an activity, as long as it’s legal, is to discriminate against a person.  But, this is absurd.  There are lots of activities that are offensive to people of faith, or of no faith at all, that happen to be legal.  Are businesses required to accommodate any and all activities as long as they aren’t proscribed by the Washington state penal code?  Is what is legal and what is moral now the same, so that people of faith are required to set their faith-inspired morals aside and adopt the legal code as their moral standard whenever they hang up a business sign or receive a license to serve as a professional?  It’s important to know that Ms. Stutzman never discriminated against the gay man who sought her services for his same-sex wedding ceremony when he was buying flowers for other purposes.  Indeed, she’s employed gay persons in her shop before.  Clearly, she’s able to see the difference between discriminating against a person and refusing to accommodate an activity.  How disappointing that all those smart lawyers on the Washington State Supreme Court can’t manage to see this important distinction.

There are obvious parallels here to physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers and abortion.  In Washington State, no one is required to participate in the performance of an abortion.  Abortion is legal in Washington, and in every state.  But, Washington sees fit to accommodate the consciences of people whose faith tradition or personal morality proscribes abortion.  In these cases, the State is able to see the difference between accommodating an act and discriminating against a person.  Why in the case of abortion, but not in the case of same-sex marriages?

Finally, the ruling against Ms. Stutzman requires that she pay the legal costs of those suing her.  This amount is to the tune of two million dollars!  This would force her out of business and take from her her life savings.  Regardless of where one stands on the issue at hand, such a punishment is exorbitant, and the U. S. Constitution proscribes “cruel and unusual punishment.”  How are these costs determined?  Are they ratcheted up in order to intimidate others who might feel impelled to defend their Constitutional rights?  It’s unbearable that Washington State and the ACLU would take every last dime from a 70+ year old lady because she can’t abide their expectations of abandoning her faith to their social and legal agenda.

The decision against Ms. Stutzman is a clear violation of the First Amendment religious liberty clause.  This assault represents an attempt to limit religious liberty to the personal venue of one’s own inner sanctum and remove faith from the public square and proscribe people of faith practicing their faith outside the confines of their own homes or churches.  The ACLU is notorious for suing Catholic hospitals in their attempt to force them to provide abortions.  That the courts have upheld the right of Catholic hospitals to actually be Catholic in these cases is encouraging, but the First Amendment was not written to provide protections only to institutions.  The First Amendment applies to citizens, as well.  Hopefully, the august attorneys who sit on the Supreme Court of the United States will take the opportunity to remind state courts of that essential element of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Be Christ for all.  Bring Christ to all.  See Christ in all.

 

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