The Shrinking Space for Religious Liberty in the Public Square

Human rights

As society continues its rapid march toward progressive ideas with relentless emphasis on personal autonomy and sexual liberty, the space for religious liberty in the public square is shrinking. A recent ruling by a judge in Washington State underscores this point.

In 2013, Baronelle Stutzman, the 70-year-old owner of Arlene’s Flower Shop in Richland, Washington, told a long-time customer and friend that she could not provide flowers for his same-sex wedding. Stutzman had been serving this particular same-sex couple for nearly a decade. While Stutzman gladly serves homosexual customers and employs those who identify as homosexual, she could not in good conscience provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. Using her creative abilities to celebrate a same-sex wedding violated her conscience.

When Stutzman explained her position, the couple publicized it through social media. The attorney general for Washington State, Bob Ferguson, heard about the situation and sued Stutzman for violating anti-discrimination laws. In addition, the same-sex couple sued with representation by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom ruled against Stutzman. In essence, Stutzman is entitled to her beliefs but cannot act on those beliefs in her business. The court held Stutzman personally liable with both the state and the couple being entitled to collect damages and attorney’s fees. This means that this 70-year-old grandmother may lose her business, her home, and ultimately her livelihood because of her sincerely held beliefs.

Responding to the ruling, Kristin Waggoner, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, stated, “The message of these rulings is unmistakable: the government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage.” Of course, the Alliance Defending Freedom who represented Stutzman is appealing the case.

Christians who provide various wedding services have been on the front lines of this cultural battle with Christian photographers and bakers coming under fire as well. Further, the recent firing of Atlanta’s fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, for authoring a book that briefly refers to homosexuality as sin is yet another example of the intolerance against biblical Christianity in our culture. While the First Amendment guarantees religious liberty, this guarantee seems to mean less and less as passion for sexual liberty increasingly defines acceptable behavior in the public square.

Will believers remain faithful to God and His Word amidst the ever-increasing cultural tides that would push us to reject Scripture in an effort to gain cultural capital and dodge persecution? Jesus warned His disciples of the high cost of following Him, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will find it. What will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:24–26, HCSB) We must be ready to pay the price of following Christ, even if that means the price is getting higher.

Sources Used:

Alliance Defense Fund, “Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers, State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, and Arlene’s Flowers v. Ferguson.”

Denny Burk, “A Florist Loses Religious Freedom, and Much More,” on CNN.com.

Valerie Richardson, “Wash. Florist Who Refused Gay Wedding over Christian Beliefs Violated Law, Judge Rules,” The Washington Times.