Court Rules Against Religious Freedom... Again

Court Rules Against Religious Freedom... Again

Photo Source: SeattleTimes.com

Photo Source: SeattleTimes.com

Steven Miner, Social Policy Contributor

The Washington Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Barronelle Stutzman, a florist from Richland, Washington, violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing service for a same-sex wedding. Her refusal is based on her religious convictions, as she is a devout Christian. The ruling, which upheld a lower court ruling, was unanimous. Stutzman faces a $1,000 fine as well as attorney’s fees from those who sued her.

Barronelle Stutzman, 72, has been a florist in Richland for 30 years. “You don’t work that long in a small town without getting to know your customers very well,” she says, “and counting many of them as friends.” One of these longtime customers was Rob Ingersoll, who had been coming to Stutzman for 10 of those 30 years. They became very close, “bouncing off creative ideas” with each other and encouraging “artistry in each other.”

As Stutzman explains, “I knew he was in a relationship with a man and he knew I was a Christian.” However, that “never clouded the friendship for either of us.” That was until Ingersoll asked her to design something for his wedding. As much as Stutzman cared for her friend, she is a Christian above all else, and “weddings have a particular significance” to Christians. She explains further:

“Surely without intending to do so, Rob was asking me to choose between my affection for him and my commitment to Christ. As deeply fond as I am of Rob, my relationship with Jesus is everything to me. Without Christ, I can do nothing.”

Stutzman describes breaking the news to Ingersoll that she cannot be the florist for his wedding as “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.” It soon became even harder, as her friend of 10 years turned around and sued her for her convictions.

Liberals are already hailing it as a victory for equality and anti-discrimination. In a statement, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said that the ruling makes “intolerance based on sexual orientation” unlawful, keeping Washington a “place where no one can be discriminated against because of who they love.”

Was this an example of intolerance, though? Stutzman provided services to Ingersoll for 10 years, knowing full well his sexual orientation. She considered him a close friend. It wasn’t a person she was refusing to involve herself with. It was an event. Progressives act as though actions and events a person involves him or herself with are apart of that person’s identity. Christians aren’t always so sure. We believe that we can love the that person without associating with everything that person is involved with. Rejecting involvement in a same-sex wedding does not equal rejecting a person involved in a same-sex relationship.

The court ultimately rejected the argument that the flowers constituted speech or an endorsement. As Michael Scott, the ACLU lawyer representing the same-sex couple, argued, “she’s not endorsing same-sex marriage. She’s selling what she sells.” This is a shallow argument and I reject it. There are very few limitations to what could constitute speech. Stutzman’s involvement in this wedding could be seen as speech, and therefore an endorsement, for two reasons. First, it’s her job, and many people dedicate themselves to their work. Stutzman had been a florist for 30 years. It is part of her identity, not just a service she provides to make money. Second, as a florist, she considers herself an artist. As she explains:

“For artists, creativity is the very core of who we are. Our ability to draw on our deepest beliefs and unique sensibilities enables us to create one-of-a-kind works of art and works of the heart. An artist really can’t separate his or her work from the soul.”

Clearly, artists put their beliefs into their work. They very frequently promote those beliefs or some form of speech in their work. Not only is this not simply “selling what [they sell],” but it would be requiring someone like Stutzman to sacrifice her beliefs in order to do work for a same-sex wedding.

This ruling is yet another loss in the courts for the 1st Amendment. Stutzman and her lawyer will attempt to work their way to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to get this ruling overturned. If only it didn’t have to come to all of this. Stutzman was supportive of her friend’s opportunity to get married. She simply has sincere religious convictions. She only wishes he “would be as willing to honor my right to make those kinds of choices as it is to honor Rob’s right to make his.” She just wants there to be “mutual tolerance.” That sounds pretty reasonable to me.

What does Barronelle Stutzman have to say about the guy suing her now? “Rob Ingersoll will always be my friend,” she says.

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