Christianity,  Politics

Does this look like Jim Crow discrimination to you?

Last week, Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt joined their voices with the opponents of Christianity. In short, they argue that Christian business owners who refuse to participate in gay weddings are unjustly discriminating against gay people. Powers even went so far as to say that legal efforts to protect these Christians are tantamount to Jim Crow laws for gay people. Again today, Powers has another op-ed doubling down on her stance against these Christians.

This Jim Crow narrative has really taken hold in recent weeks, but I want to invite you readers to consider whether it really is a good analogy. In the Jim Crow South, white business owners regularly refused service to black people because of their skin color. Are these Christian business owners try to do the same?

Consider the case of Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Washington State who is being sued by the attorney general of the state for refusing to involve her business in a gay wedding. You can watch her in her own words in the video above, but here’s what happened. Stutzman had been serving a gay couple in her flower shop for over ten years. She considered the men to be her friends, and they considered her to be their friend. The two gay men said that throughout their decade long friendship, they did not know that Stutzman believed homosexuality to be a sin. She didn’t treat them any differently than anyone else. She was a friend to them and served them while knowing full well that they were gay.

Does this sound like Jim Crow segregation to you? Does this sound like bigotry to you? Does this sound like discrimination to you? So what happened that got her in trouble?

The two men came into her shop one day and asked her to provide floral arrangements for their wedding celebration. Stutzman responded by taking her friend’s hand and saying this:

‘I am sorry. I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.’ We hugged each other and he left, and I assumed it was the end of the story.

What happened next? Did the gay couple feel bad about putting their friend in a tough situation? Did they tell her, “We disagree, but we understand” and then take their business elsewhere? No, that’s not what they did. They used Facebook to spread the word about her refusal. Her refusal was reported to authorities, and now this Christian florist is being sued by the Washington State Attorney General.

Stutzman was perfectly willing to serve these two gay men. She did so for over a decade and counted the two men as her friends. She didn’t discriminate against them personally, she just didn’t want to participate in their wedding celebration. How anyone can construe this as anything akin to Jim Crow discrimination is beyond me. Nevertheless, that is the false narrative that is being foisted on her and every other Christian business owner in her situation. They are happy to serve gay people. They just don’t want to participate in gay weddings.

Those who are accusing these Christians of being bigots who wish to return America to Jim Crow discrimination are bearing false witness against these brothers sisters. The sexual revolutionaries seem willing to do or say almost anything to advance their cause. They don’t wish to sympathize with conscientious objectors. Instead, they wish to demonize them with false accusations. Unfortunately, their accomplices in the media are all too willing to help them to spread the lie.

The revolutionaries are not demanding tolerance, but absolute approval of homosexuality. It doesn’t matter if you have been their friend for over a decade. If you get in the way, they are prepared to call the coercive power of the state down upon you—to tar and feather you with the label “Jim Crow” or “bigot.” But the accusation just isn’t true. It certainly wasn’t in the case of Baronelle Stutzman. And neither is it for many others who are now feeling the coercive power of the state bearing down on them.


  • Bill Gernenz

    It doesn’t matter if you have been their friend for over a decade. If you get in the way, they are prepared to call the coercive power of the state down upon you—to tar and feather you with the label “Jim Crow” or “bigot.”

    Good word, Denny. And a very revealing fact to those who can see it.

  • Esther O'Reilly

    All the scenarios Powers was proposing were either highly implausible or something I’m perfectly comfortable with as a libertarian on this issue. “What if a liberal Christian restaurant owner tells a conservative Christian baker to leave his restaurant, hmmm? Gotcha!” I say, great! Let the liberal restaurant owner do whatever he wants. Let the conservative baker do whatever he wants. If you think I’m a knucklehead and you just don’t feel like giving me soup, you should be free to throw me out. And vice versa.

    Private business owners shouldn’t need to justify what they do with their private property as long as they are not violating anyone’s constitutional rights. Period. And I’m not talking about what nine men in robes have “found” in the constitution with tweezers and a magnifying glass either.

    • Esther O'Reilly

      (To clarify a comment in moderation, I mean “privately OWNED property.” Just because property is open to the public doesn’t mean it should be treated as a public institution.)

  • Francis Beckwith

    Stunning betrayal of friendship. Years ago, after I became Catholic, I was told by an Evangelical friend that he could not longer invite to speak at his church, and it wasn’t necessary because of my Catholicism. But rather it was because of the public nature of my reversion and that my presence would draw the wrong sort of attention to the church and the conference. Was I offended? Not in the slightest. I respected his judgment. And, in fact, I found it refreshing to see someone take his theology and ecclesial role seriously. Imagine if I had gone online and whined about “anti-Catholic” bigotry. That would have showed me to be a person of bad character, someone willing to betray a friend to make some silly theological point.

      • Manuel Lopez

        I think the main point is that they shouldn’t try to use the coercive power of the government to force her to work for their wedding. Though your point is well taken – I wish defenders of religious freedom wouldn’t muddy the issue by inadvertently conflating critical speech against Christians (which would remain perfectly legal under this law) with governmental coercion.

    • Esther O'Reilly

      Agreed. And to use a Protestant/Catholic service provider example (which no doubt Powers would expect us to balk at too), I don’t think a Protestant should be forced to print Catholic prayer cards addressed to the Virgin Mary.

  • Ian Shaw

    I’m sure AG Holder would say it is. He’s even gone so far as to tell state AG’s not to enforce certain laws that conflict with federal laws/cout rulings.

    I agree with you Denny. Well said. My question also remains, say the situation was exactly the same for a Orthodox Jew or Muslim. Would they be told they are discriminatory?

    • Chris Ryan

      Hey, Ian, here’s a case exactly on those terms. And, yes, they were told that their discrimination was unlawful. Just Google “Sep 9, 2008, minneapolis, muslim, airport, alcohol”

      • Ian Shaw

        And I would argue for that Muslim’s behalf that the state should not compel sone one to do something that violates their conscience.

  • Keith Kraska

    What it looks like to me is bullying, of Ms. Stutzman.
    What purpose is served by punishing business owners like her? What harm did she cause? Were there no other florists in town? Why would two people getting married want to force someone who believes what they’re doing is wrong to have anything to do with the wedding? Why didn’t the men just move on?
    The only harm to them is that they were offended. The only reason to retaliate is vindictiveness. This is one of the core issues of this debate: Should offending others’ feelings be a civil offense punishable by the state?

  • Chris Ryan

    I’ve certainly known ppl who revealed themselves as racists only after I had known them many years, so you can’t draw conclusions one way or the other. My parents can be bigoted but you wouldn’t know it to meet them. Part of what’s happening here is that decent & fair minded Christians are being grouped together in the public’s eye with Christians who are in fact homophobic. There was someone just this week who said gays are perverts who should be punished like any other common criminal and I think only 2 of us raised an objection. Someone else actually tried to excuse that homophobia away. So, until we as conservative Christians oppose those who are homophobic, we will be lumped in together with them. That’s unfortunate but that’s how it works. If MLK hadn’t opposed Malcolm X the whole Civil Rights movement would’ve been tarred with the hate of the Nation of Islam. MLK made the correct & courageous choice. Let’s do the same.

  • Johnny Mason

    Wow, that column was full of straw men, fear-mongering, and outright ignorance. The law would allow none of those things she describes, and, most importantly, most of the examples she uses can already be done today.

    Public accommodation laws only prevent discrimination on race, color, religion, or national origin.

    “What if an Army sergeant in full regalia is driving through a small town and his car breaks down and it’s too late to find a mechanic? There are two hotels in the town; both are owned by pacifist Christians. Do the backers of this bill really believe it should be legal for him to be refused a room and forced to sleep in his car?”

    Hotel owners could do that today. They can refuse him because he has brown hair, or wears camo, or because he is in the military. But here is the important point. No one is doing this today even though it is completely legal.

    “What’s to say that a Christian restaurant owner won’t tell the Christian baker who refuses service to gays to leave his establishment?”

    You can do this today. There was a restaurant that had a sign on the window that would refuse service to members of the Arizona legislature. It is completely legal, today.

    “If you own a bakery that does business for gay weddings and one of your employees becomes a born again Christian and refuses to bake cakes, what do you do?”

    What can you do today? You cannot fire an employee because they are Christian currently. This bill will not change that.

    “Say the only pharmacy in town is owned by a conservative Muslim. He believes that women should be covered. A mother comes in to get antibiotics for her sick child. He refuses service unless she covers herself. Will the religious right defend this?”

    If the bill were to pass, then the Muslim owner would have to pass certain hurdles (quite high hurdles at that) in order to be able to do this. If you are the only pharmacy in town, then the government has a compelling interest for the owner to provide service.

    There is a federal law on the books, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which prevents the federal government from violating an individuals religion without a compelling interest. And this applies to everyone, not just religious institutions.

    The federal courts ruled that this law does not apply to the states, which led to the states passing similar laws, but these laws were still deficient in certain respects. For example, in Arizona, it only applied to religious institutions or clergy, so this bill modifies that to apply to all individuals, just like the Federal Law.

    In sum, none of these things that Powers worries about are happening today, even thought they are perfectly legal. This bill would only extend protection that is already provided at the Federal level to all citizens of that state.

    • Ian Shaw

      The problem is, if you make the DOMA ruling the precedant to essentially take the argument to one side of the extreme, of course those of us will be screaming from the other side, and from the middle, but out of fear, you refuse to acknowldege our position because you feel it will pull the argument to the opposite extreme as opposed to the middle where it should be, compared to where it is headed now.

      Does that make sense?

      • Johnny Mason

        Even middle of the road solutions were demagogued, see the Kansas bill. It only allowed protections from participating in gay weddings and people treated it the same way as this bill. The only difference being that bill was shot down in the Kansas senate.

        So any attempt to offer religious protections of any kind will be met with much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    • Ian Shaw

      “If the bill were to pass, then the Muslim owner would have to pass certain hurdles (quite high hurdles at that) in order to be able to do this. If you are the only pharmacy in town, then the government has a compelling interest for the owner to provide service. There is a federal law on the books, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which prevents the federal government from violating an individuals religion without a compelling interest. And this applies to everyone, not just religious institutions. ”

      Seeing as how in most instances, bakeries and florists are all over the place, the government does not have a compelling interest to keep/force these business to continue prodicing products/services. Compared to your pharmacy example.

      Unless you are living in Palookaville, Minnesota, you probably have more than one bakery or floritst in your general area., thus taking the governmnets “compelling interest” out of the equation. If that’s the case, why is the state of Washington trying to force this old granny to provide a product for a celebration that her faith finds wrong?

    • Ian Shaw

      The end around this is for all these bakeries and florists that fall in this category to resubmit their business as a faith-based, non-profit. And then create another faith-based, non-profit group to operate under (like an umbrella or conglomerate group)

    • Mark Lytle

      It’s interesting how Christians are all for using the coercive power of the government to enforce a religious understanding of a civil ceremony and exclude gay people the same rights and protections afforded when you civilly marry the one you love — then get up at arms when those powers are then turned around on them. SMH

      • James Stanton

        That’s just the privilege of those with power, Mark. It’s tyranny and an infringement of “religious liberty” when Christians are the ones put upon and justified when social conservatives have the votes and ability to make life miserable for others. I think what it boils down to is the right to express moral disapproval of things that offend one’s conscience. Selectively, of course.

        I think the galling thing is that socially conservative pundits of note do not seem to realize why their arguments are not persuasive to the public when it seems so obvious to them that their “religious freedom” must be protected.

        The other day someone wrote that people should be able to deny homosexuals (or anyone, really) any services short of medical care. Why not medical care too? At least be consistent.

  • Bill Hickman

    Denny –

    I’m not sure the term “Jim Crow” is appropriate, but I still think you’re evading a key point. The legislators who passed SB 1062 claim that it’s necessary to protect businesspeople like Ms. Stutzman. But the language of the bill itself is way, way broader than necessary to accomplish this goal.

    Ms. Stutzman seems like a kind and thoughtful Christian person. But do you honestly think the only people in Arizona who would take advantage of the law are all as conscientious as she is? In the world I live in, many people simply dislike LGBTers, and they could use this overly broad law as a shield for invidious, spiteful discrimination.

    That’s my big problem with SB 1062. Are you willing to defend the language of the bill?

    • Johnny Mason

      Bill, people and businesses can already discriminate in Arizona based on sexual orientation (there is no law against discriminating on orientation), yet it is not happening.

    • Denny Burk

      I think that people of good faith can disagree over the specifics of legislative remedies, and that applies to both the bill in Kansas and the one in Arizona. The problem is that gay rights proponents oppose any and all remedies. They believe that the state should coerce conscientious Christians into participating in gay weddings or suffering crippling fines and penalties. It’s not just this bill that is controversial. Any bill calling for conscience protections will be opposed by the activists. And that is the problem.

      • Roy Fuller

        The biggest problem I have the with whole narrative as you have presented it is when you claim, “They are happy to serve gay people. They just don’t want to participate in gay weddings.” Really, all Christian business owners are happy to serve gay people? Do you believe that, do you think it is true? Listen, we have a a class of values on this issue in our culture. But as I indicated in my post below “I don’t believe that Christians (and by using that term I am only referring to a segment of the Christian community) are going to offer much of a witness by continuing down the path of looking to the state to protect their rights.” Where exactly is your biblical support for Christians looking to the state to defend their rights?

  • Johnny Mason

    Here is an article from an Arizona law professor that says the law would mean almost nothing to the current legal climate.

    “And even in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff, which do extend rights based on sexual orientation, only the government can take action against an offending firm, with companies already able to claim a shield against government action under existing law. There is no individual right to sue.

    “My summary is, it means almost nothing,” said Paul Bender, former dean of the Arizona State University College of Law.

    “People talk about, ‘I’ll go into a bakery and ask them for a wedding cake,’ and they’ll say, ‘I don’t do wedding cakes for gay weddings,’” Bender said. “So what? You can’t sue them for that.”

    • Ian Shaw

      Johnny, so is the difference here and say Washington or Colorado because those 2 states have non-discrimination laws that linclude sexual orientation? I ask as those states, the individual has a right to sue, or file a complaint with the AG.

  • andrew alladin

    Now that Christendom is being deconstructed in the West a new morality must be established – at least in the sexual realm. The new morality is Tolerance/Acceptance and this is the new Caesar that Christians will be forced to render to. Publicly. You can do whatever you wish in the four walls of your church or home (for now) but in public you must acknowledge this new morality and you must be a full participant in its domination as the new moral standard. This is one way that God is judging America – we are running furiously from sin to sin, wearing ourselves out, and Christians are being dragged along as ungodly people strive for more ways to rebel against God.

    Sexual ethics in scripture is a closed circle. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Sex is between a man and a woman, in marriage. But now that this circle is broken, where or when do we stop? Beyond the obviously distasteful/illegal (bestiality, incest, pedophilia) the creators of the new morality have no limiting principle beside consent. Christians will be worn out by this new moralists’ hyperactive search for contentment in sin that is not only contrary to God’s law but also contrary to human biology.

  • Ian Shaw

    Plainly put, the federal government has set a precedent for the states to follow, that individual sexual liberty has more weight (at least in a constitutional basis) than individual religious freedom.

    What won’t they force a business owner of faith (or a faithless business owner) to do? That’s a legitimate question.

    Could the state therefore force a gay florist/baker to provide products/services for a couple at an IFB church or worse…Westboro?

  • Kevin W. Bridges

    It’s hard to know as a Christian just how far you go with projecting your ethic on others in a public, full service environment (I think she could have called herself a Christian flower store or something so people would know what to expect). For example, wal-mart, k-mart, target, etc. all supply products to the american consumer at cheap prices because of sweat shops and under-paid under-served people in other countries because we got to have our stuff. Is there a conscience I should have about that and refuse to buy from those stores? Part of me thinks that she sells flowers in the public domain and they can be used for ungodly weddings, satanic rituals, between couples who are not married, etc. I understand her belief, but I wonder if it really matters. Can she sell flowers to her friend and valuable customer and still maintain her belief in marriage between a man and woman as the only Godly marriage? I also can’t help but think about my teens and sex. Can I tell them about condoms and safe sex and at the same time proclaim my belief that it’s right to only have sex in a marriage covenant relationship or am I condoning premarital sex?

  • Linda Jackson

    A fair weather friend is not a friend. Also, she owns a business, so they are suing her based on what they feel is professional misconduct, not the same as one friend suing another friend over moral differences.

  • James Bradshaw

    To sue a small business owner like this woman is just plain pigheaded and misguided. I wouldn’t do it, personally.

    I’m also concerned that respect for the individual conscience is slowly eroding.

    To my fellow gay marriage supporters, I would ask this: what room is there for individual conscience when the law demands something that imposes upon it? For example, we allow people who strongly oppose military violence to file for conscientious objector status which essentially exempts them from some form of military service (although I don’t know how liberal these policies are). These exemptions have served the liberal conscience in the past, so we cannot reject all legal exemptions merely because it involves a conservative conscience. Further, do individuals forfeit any right of conscience when serving as an employee of a company?

    To those who oppose gay marriage, I would ask this: what are the reasonable limits of religious freedom? Can one do anything under this umbrella? How do I weigh matters of personal conscience with the rights of others? For example, if Christian Science parents wish to deny a sick child medical attention, should they be able to do so with impunity, even if it means death for a child when medical care could have easily restored them to health?

    These aren’t easy questions, and both sides seem to be dismissing the valid concerns of the dissent.

    • James Stanton

      Well,churches can’t be forced to conduct same-sex weddings (yet) and it makes no sense to force an individual to provide services in violation of their beliefs. Since we don’t live in a libertarian society this can get very problematic. I’m just as uncomfortable with how this might get applied at the corporate level or in local government and an example would be some of the broad policy such as the now-vetoed legislation in Arizona.

      Now, part of the problem with the overall conversation and the issue of dissent is the total unwillingness of either side to negotiate in good faith. There is an organized effort to pass these laws across the US and it came quickly out of the “religious freedom/religious liberty” awakening after the realization that gay marriage is soon to legalized across the country.

  • Roy Fuller

    I wonder what would happen if, instead of Christians fighting for their rights and calling for legislation to protect themselves from violating their conscience, believers simply loved everyone they encountered in their daily life. Would this change the perception of Christians that is so widely held in our culture? I realize it sounds naive, and I am not a naive person, but I don’t believe that Christians (and by using that term I am only referring to a segment of the Christian community) are going to offer much of a witness by continuing down the path of looking to the state to protect their rights.

    • Ian Shaw

      Roy, there is a lot of truth to what you have said. Christians (collectively) don’t have a great track record when it comes to loving others. That being said, I don’t think we should actively seek to find persecution either.

    • Johnny Mason

      I think you make valid points and the Gospel is not going to be spread by politicians or through legislation, but it should be noted that the lady in the video showed love and respect, was not hateful or bigoted. She was not fighting for her rights or seeking protection, yet she was still targeted.

    • John Klink, Jr.

      The problem is defining “love”. To the Christian it means being kind in spite of a religious conviction causeing an inability to celebrate or accept someone’s sin as normative behavior. To the culture of America, “love” means full acceptance of the sin as normative. So even if we are Biblically loving (and there are many who are), it does not change the cultural perception, simply because the world sees Jesus love as condemning and hateful. How did the people of Jesus day perceive His loving statements about sin? If we love the sinner biblically, we are going to be called names and hated and the power of govenment is going to be used against us, just like it was against Jesus, and the early church.

  • Brett Cody

    Well stated, Andrew.
    Note: Making clear, logical statements in America today is not acceptable. The new morality has mandated that you have to constantly monitor your language so that you do not even come close to offending anyone. Well, anyone except for those who hold to Biblical principles. There will no doubt be some who think your statement was not ‘sensitive’ enough to be stated.
    Don’t let them deter you, Andrew.

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