“Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” –The Borg in Star Trek
Last Thursday the Washington state supreme court issued a chilling ruling against religious freedom. The case in question involves a Baptist florist named Barronelle Stutzman. For years she provided service to two homosexuals, Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed. But when the men decided to marry and asked Stutzman to do the flowers for their wedding, she deferred, recommending several other florists in the area. The couple then sued, along with the ACLU and the state of Washington. Stutzman lost, and her last hope is that the US Supreme Court will hear her case and defend her rights.
From the inception of the Constitution the founders were intent on insuring the freedom of religion. And so the very first item in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, explicitly protects the free exercise of religion.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
“The free exercise thereof” protected by the Constitution does not simply include the freedom to go to synagogue, mosque, or church each week. It is much broader than that, and offers protection for religious beliefs and practices woven throughout the course of every day life – including maintaining those beliefs and practices on the job. For this reason, America has a rich history of providing accommodation to religious adherents of various faiths in the private sector and in the public sector.
For instance, some believers with religious scruples against taking up arms in combat have been drafted into the armed services. Our nation has not always been kind to conscientious objectors, but in its more enlightened days, the government has accommodated pacifists by giving them non-combatant roles in military. Several conscientious objectors served with distinction as medics in World War II, even receiving the Medal of Honor. They were not compelled to take up arms and violate their beliefs. They were given an assignment that allowed them to serve their country and exercise their religion at the same time.
This sort of accommodation takes place all the time on a much less dramatic scale. It is done for Orthodox Jewish believers who do not wish to be scheduled to work on the Sabbath, Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not wish to raise and lower the U.S. flag, Muslim truck drivers who do not wish to transport alcohol, and multiplied other cases.
This balanced approach to the respect for the dignity of the individual conscience has been the common sense way people in civil society have worked to get along with each other here in America. But last week’s ruling by the Washington state court is a radical departure from this civil tradition, allowing for no effort at accommodation and compromise. Even worse, it represents a callous disregard for the explicitly protected right to free exercise of religion.
And religious freedom is the issue here, not discrimination against homosexuals. As the facts clearly demonstrate, Mrs. Stutzman did business with the men in question for many years. She never refused to sell them flowers because they were gay. What she refused to do was make floral arrangements for their wedding. The issue here is simple coercion – must a Christian businessman or woman be forced by the state to use their talents for an event that violates their conscience?
Suppose I was a baker living in Las Vegas, where prostitution is legal. If a prostitute from one of the legal brothels there came in to my bakery, would I sell her a cupcake even though I am a Christian? Absolutely! In fact, I would sell her as many as I could. Now let’s say the owner of the brothel decides to throw a big party to celebrate ten years in business, and that same prostitute drops by to ask me to decorate a cake for the anniversary celebration. Could I do that as a Christian? I would have to respectfully decline, because now she has asked me to use my talents to provide a service in connection with an event that is celebrating something to which I am morally opposed on the basis of my faith.
Perhaps your religious beliefs lead you to think that prostitution is wrong but same-sex marriage is ok. Maybe your religious beliefs approve of both. Or maybe you don’t have any religious beliefs at all and you think they are both ok. That’s fine – that’s what freedom of religion is all about. What I want you to see is that there is a distinction between doing business with a person and providing services for an event. When a conservative minded Jewish, Muslim, or Christian baker/florist/photographer declines to provide services to a same-sex wedding on the basis of deeply held religious beliefs, that is not anti-gay discrimination. That is the free exercise of religion. And whether you are straight or gay, the very idea that civil governments at the state level are using coercive power to attempt to compel citizens to violate their religious beliefs should be alarming.
Sadly, this erosion of religious liberty was predictable once the US Supreme Court issued its decision on Obergefell. In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy tried to reassure those concerned with the decision for religious reasons:
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.
But of course, the First Amendment does not promise the right to advocate, but the right to exercise. Rather than soothing concerns regarding religious liberty, Kennedy’s ominous narrowing of the explicit language of the Constitution only intensified those concerns. As Justice Roberts responded, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”
If someone like Mrs. Stutzman can be targeted by the state for her conscientious beliefs, no one is safe. By the same logic, the government could force Catholic bakers to cater pro-choice gatherings. Or force Jewish printers to design fliers for neo-Nazi rallies. Or force Muslim florists to make decorations for alt-right conventions.
All of the power structures of American culture – big government, big business, big media – are intent on imposing their moral vision on society. Anyone who dares to stand up to these powers and hold to the faith on issues like same-sex marriage is going to face the same fury that Christians have always borne when they challenge the idolatry of the age. The hive mind of our decadent culture issues the same warning that the Borg delivered in the Star Trek franchise: “Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”
It is a time for cheerful courage.