By now you may have already heard the news that the Washington State Supreme Court has rejected Barronelle Stutzman’s appeal. Here is the report from the Associated Press:
The Washington Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that a florist who refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding broke the state’s antidiscrimination law, even though she claimed doing so would violate her religious beliefs.
Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Washington, had been fined by a lower court for denying service to a gay couple in 2013. Stutzman said she was exercising her First Amendment rights.
But the court held that her floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage…
Stutzman’s lawyers immediately said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision.
Readers of this blog know that I have already written extensively about this case on this site over the last several years. Readers will not be surprised that I find this decision from the Washington Supreme Court to be a fundamental miscarriage of justice—a trampling of religious liberty. As I have written previously for CNN.com, this is what yesterday’s decision means:
The decision against Stutzman sets a dreadful precedent against our first freedom in the Bill of Rights: religious liberty. The court says that she is free to believe what she wants, but not to practice her religious beliefs. The court has ruled that if she wants to run a business in the state of Washington, she must defy her conscience and participate in same-sex weddings. If she does not, then the full coercive power of the state — as well as civil liability — will be brought against her.
Keep in mind that Stutzman does not refuse service to gay people. Indeed she had been selling flowers to this gay couple for nine years. She has also employed gay people in her flower shop. She had a friendship with the man suing her and cared for him personally and wished for her relationship with him to continue. She simply could not defy her conscience and lend her creative talent to help celebrate what her faith says she cannot celebrate. She had no idea that staying true to her faith would end up threatening her entire livelihood and savings.
We are witnessing a shift in our society — a shift which inevitably leads to Christians being treated as pariahs at every level of our national life. Louie Giglio’s Christian views on marriage got him removed from the President’s inauguration. Brendan Eich’s support for traditional marriage got him dismissed as CEO of Mozilla. Kelvin Cochran’s Christian faith got him fired from his position as fire chief of Atlanta. Two bakers in Oregon had to shutter their business and are now facing bankruptcy for refusing to participate in a gay wedding. The stories are mounting. Who will be next?…
Barronelle Stutzman’s case is nothing less than an egregious violation of our first freedom. It is Caesar saying, “Conscience be damned. Submit to the new sexual orthodoxy or risk losing everything.”
This is not tolerance. This is injustice that flies in the face of this nation’s laws and traditions. And if this kind of thing can be done to a 70-year-old grandmother running a small flower shop in rural Washington State, then it can be done to you. No one’s conscience is safe if this precedent becomes the norm.
Ms. Stutzman has appealed her case to the Supreme Court of the United States. I cannot overstate how important SCOTUS’s decision will be. Will they even agree to hear the case? If they do, what will Justice Kennedy decide? I encourage you to read the legal analysis from Constitutional lawyer David French. Among other things, French writes:
Once again, eyes will be fixed on Justice Kennedy. Will he continue to impose his own version of the state religion, the one he so enthusiastically articulated in Obergefell? Or will he remember that words have meaning, orientation doesn’t mean action, and the state can’t compel citizens to condone what they consider immoral. It’s time for the Supreme Court to take a deep breath, abandon its revolutionary crusade, and remember the great wisdom of its predecessors… What say you, Justice Kennedy? Do those who oppose the sexual revolution forfeit that fundamental protection? I suppose we’ll soon find out.
I have a particular interest in this case for a couple of reasons. First, Ms. Stutzman is a fellow Southern Baptist, and she is risking everything to be faithful to what we believe the Bible teaches about marriage.
Second, I offered testimony in the early stages of this case. And that day of testimony has impacted me to this day. When I was first asked to give testimony, I thought my role as an SBC pastor and seminary professor would simply be to enter into the record what Southern Baptists believe about marriage. But that is not at all what it turned out to be.
For an entire day, I sat across the table from attorneys representing the Washington Attorney General and the ACLU (two different attorneys because Ms. Stutzman is being sued by the state and by the gay couple that she was once friends with). These attorneys didn’t merely ask me what Southern Baptist believe. They tried to show that what Southern Baptists believe amounts to invidious discrimination.
I had to defend not only our denomination’s statement of faith (The Baptist Faith and Message) but also resolutions passed by our denomination going back 30 and 40 years. It was hostile questioning intended to discredit what Southern Baptists believe about marriage. They wanted to discredit us so that they could discredit her. And make no mistake, once they succeed in punishing her, others will use this precedent to punish the rest of us—and not just Southern Baptists but any person who dares to act on their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
My one day of questioning is nothing compared to what Ms. Stutzman has gone through in all of this. Pray for her and her husband. She is happy to serve gay people in her flower shop. She always has been and always will be happy to do that. She is simply asking that the state not coerce her to participate in a gay wedding. If the Supreme Court denies her that simple accommodation, the consequences will be devastating not only for her but for all of us.