It’s possible that you’ve never heard of Barronelle Stutzman. If you don’t live in the state of Washington, and you don’t follow constitutional freedom cases closely, you may have missed her story. But the stand she has taken, and the court decision that may impact her entire life, should cause you great concern.
Barronelle, by all accounts, is a kind-hearted, loving Christian in Richland, Washington. For a number of years, she has operated a flower shop called Arlene’s Flowers, and has served a very diverse clientele. In fact, she has both employed and served people who identify as homosexual. However, her world was turned upside down when one of her long-time customers, Robert Ingersoll, asked her to provide flowers for his same-sex ceremony to another man. Although she had served Mr. Ingersoll on many other occasions, this request was something she simply could not fulfill without violating her religious conscience. So she declined, and provided Mr. Ingersoll a reference to another florist.
That sounds perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? Unfortunately for Barronelle, that was the beginning of a long and difficult road, which on November 15, 2016, resulted in a visit to the Washington Supreme Court, which is hearing oral arguments on her case. She was sued by the ACLU and the Washington Attorney General, who claim that she unlawfully discriminated against Mr. Ingersoll.
To read more about Barronelle’s case, click here.
Barronelle lost in the lower court, and she appealed to the Washington Supreme Court with the assistance of her attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom.
So what does this have to do with the rest of us? Consider for a moment the consequences from a case such as Barronelle’s. If the government – whether state government in her case or the federal government, or even local government – has the ability to force us to act in a certain way, even though that act violates our sincerely held religious beliefs, then what would keep the government from doing whatever it wants?
If the government can require Barronelle to use her artistic talents in support of a same-sex wedding in violation of her religious beliefs, what would stop them from forcing any of the rest of us to do the same? Are you a baker? Then you are required to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Are you a Muslim photographer? Get ready to photograph the baptism of a former Muslim converting to Christianity. And don’t think you’ll be let off the hook if you’re an atheist business owner, because you’ll soon be in the crosshairs as well.
Some have said that a good business practice would be to simply take the clients as they come, and fulfill their requests. After all, if Barronelle had simply provided the flowers, those attending the wedding would likely not assume that to mean she approves of the ceremony itself.
The problem with that argument is that it ignores the freedom that Barronelle has to choose for herself. It eliminates her ability to exercise her religious freedom in the way she believes to be appropriate for her. In Barronelle’s own words: “Does anyone really believe that a government that gives itself the power to force people to believe (and not believe) things and can order artists to create state-sanctioned messages will only use that power to bend one small-town florist to its will – and then leave everyone else alone?” Read Barronelle’s article here.
Barronelle’s words are strikingly similar to the famous poem by Pastor Marin Niemoller about the cowardice of German intellectuals regarding the Nazi’s rise to power:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Barronelle is exactly right. If the state of Washington has the power to force her to violate her conscience, there is really nothing it can’t do. And this power would not be limited to a “small-town florist”.
This is why today, I stand with Barronelle. #JusticeForBarronelle.
Please share this blog if you’re willing to do so, and share Barronelle’s story.