The Washington State Supreme Court recently found seventy-two-year-old florist Barronelle Stutzman guilty of violating a Washington state law for refusing to use her artistic talents to compose flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding. Here are seven reasons why Ms. Stutzman is right and the court is wrong.
1. Original Intent is the Key to What the Constitution Means
Our country was founded largely to secure religious freedom. Thus, when the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1791, the intent was to ensure that Congress would make no law that would require church membership or religious practice of its citizens. Nor could Congress prohibit citizens from freely exercising their religion or abridge their freedom of speech and association rights.
In other words, the First Amendment doesn’t just protect your freedom to believe something (after all, you can have beliefs inside your head wherever you want, even in North Korea). The First Amendment protects your freedom to live out those beliefs — to exercise those beliefs (unless there is a compelling state interest to prevent you from doing so).
Unfortunately, in one decision, the Washington Supreme Court has managed to violate all that. It is not only prohibiting the free exercise of Ms. Barronelle Stutzman’s religion, it is compelling her to engage in speech with which she fundamentally disagrees.
The issue is not what the Washington Supreme Court would like the law to be, but what the law actually is. The court cannot change the meaning of the Constitution any more than a reader can change the meaning of the Bible. If court justices want same-sex considerations to overrule First Amendment rights, they need to lobby their fellow citizens and amend the Constitution through the amendment process provided by the Constitution itself. Their raw judicial activism takes the power away from the people to govern themselves and puts it in the hands of a few unelected lawyers.
2. No Compelling State Interest
In order to overrule First Amendment rights, the government must have a compelling state interest. What compelling state interest is there in this case? Were the plaintiffs unable to get others to participate in their wedding? No, in fact Ms. Stutzman recommended three other willing florists. Since other businesses are more than happy to lend their artistic talents to celebrate same sex weddings, there is no compelling state interest that trumps the rights of Ms. Stutzman.
In fact, the government does not even trump the rights of citizens for far more critical and necessary functions than weddings. During a time of war when the government drafts people to defend the country, we allow for conscientious objectors to opt out. If the government has no compelling state interest to force people to defend the country (the most important role of government), they certainly have no compelling state interest to force people to conduct same-sex weddings (or any other wedding for that matter)!
According to a proper reading of the Constitution, a Christian florist can no more be compelled to service a same-sex wedding any more than a Muslim caterer can be compelled to service a pig roast. Because of the Constitution, a Jewish baker doesn’t have to bake a cake for neo-Nazis. Likewise, the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and association rights protect a gay baker from being compelled to bake a cake with anti-homosexual messages (as one recent court found).
The First Amendment also protects me as a citizen, who happens to be a public speaker, from being compelled to advocate speech with which I disagree. By this court’s logic, if I hire myself out as a public speaker, I would have to accept speaking jobs in support of racist groups, anti-Christian groups, communist groups, and other clients with whom I strongly disagree. That’s clearly absurd. So why should Barronelle Stutzman be forced to do, in effect, the same thing?
3. No Violation of the Washington Statute
Not only does the Constitution protect Ms. Stutzman, she didn’t even violate the Washington statute in question. Attorney David French explains:
She was not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. She was making a decision not to help celebrate an action, a form of expression. She would no more celebrate a gay wedding than she would any form of immorality, gay or straight. To dispense with her argument, the court did what numerous progressive courts have done: It rewrote the law. It rejected what it called the ‘status/conduct’ distinction, and essentially interpreted the word ‘orientation’ to also mean ‘action.’
As French points out, Ms. Stutzman did not refuse to serve people who identify as LGBT — she had done so for years, employed gays and even gladly served over several years the very person who brought suit against her. In other words, she wasn’t discriminating on the basis of “sexual orientation,” but against particular conduct that the plaintiff demanded she engage in — participation in a same-sex ceremony.
The Court illicitly rewrote the law, and tried to compare her resistance to racism. But the comparison to race doesn’t work. Race is a status and it has no impact on your conduct. But same-sex marriage is conduct that violates the deeply held moral and religious beliefs of many Americans. There’s no legitimate reason to oppose status, but there may be to oppose conduct. In fact, that’s what good laws do — they either support or oppose conduct, not people.
4. The First Amendment is a Shield, Not a Sword
Ms. Stutzman did not use her First Amendment rights as a sword to harm the plaintiff but as a shield to protect herself from harm from the plaintiff. Again, there was no appreciable harm to the plaintiff, who could easily have his wishes filled by someone else, including those recommended by Ms. Stutzman. But that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to harm Ms. Stutzman.
I have to ask the plaintiff, “Why? Why would you want anyone who disagrees with your wedding to have anything to do with it? Go to another baker, another florist, another photographer. Why force a seventy-year-old grandmother to violate her conscience when there are so many other people willing to help you and celebrate with you? After all, isn’t this supposed to be a time when ‘love wins’?”
5. Theological Judgments are not in the Court’s Jurisdiction
Some have suggested that if Ms. Stutzman was consistent, she wouldn’t have serviced non-Christian weddings or Christians getting remarried.
Well, we don’t know what her personal policies were. But even if we did, they are irrelevant to the case. Whether or not Ms. Stutzman is a “good” or consistent Christian isn’t a judgment for the Court to make. The plaintiff would have to prove that Ms. Stutzman did not have a religious belief against same-sex marriage. That’s an impossible task given her personal insistence she does have such a belief (and one she is holding at great personal cost).
In other words, for Christians, there is a Constitutional and Biblical aspect to this religious freedom case. The Washington Supreme Court was tasked to discover, not determine, what their state’s own existing law required of Barronelle Stutzman and how that comported with the United States Constitution. Whether or not Ms. Stutzman was a theologically orthodox or consistent Christian is not the concern of any court.
But, if you want to bring the Bible into it…
6. The Bible Affirms the Stand of Ms. Stutzman
One central plea of the New Testament is for people to turn to Christ to be saved. The implicit admission of this plea is that conversion cannot be forced — that people indeed have the religious freedom to live out their faith whatever it may be.
Paul even says there is to be freedom on disputable matters among believing Christians. In discussing the example of eating certain foods, which some may believe is sinful, Paul writes, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.… Whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:13-14, 23)
In other words, even if you think it’s fine for you to participate in, say, a same-sex wedding, Paul urges Christians not to impose our standards regarding disputable matters on other others, which would include Ms. Stutzman. If she is not operating from faith — if she has doubts about participating in a same-sex wedding or is convinced it is sin — then it is sin to her and Christians should support her abstinence.
7. Civil Disobedience is Biblical
Civil disobedience has rich precedent throughout the Bible. When Pharaoh ordered Hebrew midwives to murder all Hebrew boys, they disobeyed and even lied to the authorities (Exodus 1). Daniel and his friends peacefully defied laws that contracted God’s commands. Likewise, when the Jewish authorities told John and Peter to stop telling people the good news that Jesus paid for your sins and rose from the dead, they disobeyed saying that they would obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Therefore, the principle for Christians is this: civil disobedience is necessary when a government compels you to sin or prevents you from doing something God commands you to do. You don’t disobey the government merely because it permits others to sin — only when it compels you to do so.
In this case, Ms. Stutzman was, in her mind, being compelled to sin in lending her talents to promote a same-sex wedding. Thus, she has not just a right, but a duty, to resist. Christians are commanded to serve God first and, as the Biblical precedents show, resist any compulsion to sin.
Unfortunately, I doubt the activists who are always demanding tolerance will tolerate other people having rights. It seems that some people just can’t live and let live. They will not rest until all polite opposition is crushed and everyone is forced to celebrate what they are doing.
As a Christian, I say that while emphasizing that we must treat everyone, including our political and religious opponents, with the dignity they deserve. They are Image bearers of God as well. But that does not mean surrendering our duties to God because they demand we do. We must obey God rather than men.
And while it’s true that our religious liberties are legion compared to those enjoyed in some areas of the world, the growth in these kinds of court decisions are cause for concern. We’re not being martyred, but the freedom to obey God is still important. That’s why I pray that Christians won’t surrender their God-given right and obligation to obey Him, but come to the aid of their brothers and sisters who are attempting to follow our Lord by peacefully resisting sin. After all, placing flowers on sin doesn’t make it any less sinful.
(Editor's note: this article first appeared on The Stream at the following location: https://stream.org/barronelle-stutzman-flowers-dont-cover-sin/)