When the puritans, pilgrims, separatists, (you pick the name), came to this country, they sought the ability to freely worship. They sought to escape the oppression they were facing in the “Mother country,” England and the corrupt Church. In the process of setting up the government of this nation, along with our constitution, came a Bill of Rights and amendments to those rights. The very first amendment says this…
“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” seems to be limited (as is being interpreted by the courts today) to be within our church buildings. In other words, you are free to believe what you want to believe inside the walls of your church, but NOT in the marketplace. Case in point… See below. (Note: this will take you about 5-6 minutes to read…but, it’s worth it to understand where we’re headed as a nation regarding religious liberty and the First Amendment.
The Weekly is a rundown of news by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission highlighting the week’s top news stories from the public square and providing commentary on the big issues of our day.
Washington Supreme Court Rules Against Christian Florist in Same-Sex Marriage Case
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled against a Christian florist who refused to serve a same-sex wedding because of “her relationship with Jesus Christ.” In their unanimous decision the state court claims that, “discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The ruling is the latest legal setback for Barronelle Stutzman, the 72-year-old owner of Arlene’s Flowers & Gifts. Last year Washington State’s sued Stutzman because she refused to sell flowers to a long time customer when the arrangements were to be used for a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Although Stutzman, an active member of a Southern Baptist church, did not have any qualms about serving homosexual customers, she “didn’t want to be involved in a same-sex marriage.” Stutzman had served her friend and customer Rob Ingersoll for nearly a decade, designing custom arrangements for Valentine’s Day and other holidays. But when Ingersoll asked Stutzman to arrange flowers for their wedding, she told him that while she valued him as a friend, her faith would not allow it.
Last year a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that the law trumped her rights of conscience. “Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,” said Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom in his 60-page opinion.
At the time, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he would accept $2,000 in penalties, $1 in fees and costs, plus an agreement not to discriminate in the future and to end further litigation. But Stutzman rejected the proposed settlement, and in a letter to the Washington state attorney general, said:
Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.
I pray that you reconsider your position. I kindly served Rob for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process.
The attorney general continued to go after Stutzman, even though the refusal could cause her to lose her shop.
In the Washington Supreme Court ruling, the nine justices contend Stutzman discriminated against Ingersoll because of his sexual orientation. They also determined the Washington’s Defense of Marriage Act is to be “construed liberally” and that all people “regardless of sexual orientation are to have ‘’full enjoyment of any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, or privileges’ of any place of public accommodation.”
The court also contends that the Washington’s Defense of Marriage Act “contains no mandate to balance religious rights against the rights of protected class members” and that her rights to freedom of religion and speech under the U.S. Constitution were not violated.
“The Washington Supreme Court’s ruling shortchanges our nation’s most fundamental freedom in favor of ideological conformity,” said ERLC president Russell Moore in response to the ruling. “Barronelle Stutzman followed her genuinely held beliefs without hostility toward any, and yet finds herself the target of a government that wants to steamroll her constitutional rights. The Court held that the government can force citizens to use their creative gifts and expressive speech to participate and endorse acts they believe to be immoral. This decision is a loss not only for Barronelle Stutzman but for every American who values liberty and civility over coercion by the government. My prayer is that this ruling would be overturned and that the U.S. Supreme Court would recognize the crucial importance of religious liberty.”
Did you notice the words: “U.S. Supreme Court” in that last sentence. That’s where it’s headed and that’s why the Trump appointment of Neil Gorsuch and his confirmation is so critical. It will at least give the court a 4-4 tie and Justice Kennedy (as usual…as the “moderate-left-leaning” justice) will be the swing vote. If Clinton had won the whitehouse, it would have been “game over.”
So, there’s been another blow to religious liberty. But, there’s also been a victory for Religious Liberty. Did you hear about this?
Fighting Fired With Fired
February 09, 2017
Squashing a person’s religious freedom will cost you — $225,000 in fact! That’s how much the state of Georgia was forced to pay Dr. Eric Walsh for taking his family on a two-year roller coaster of Christian persecution. As some of you might remember, the Californian was hired by Georgia officials to run the state’s Department of Public Health. But shortly after accepting the job and preparing to move his family to the Peach State, his new office called and asked for copies of sermons he’d delivered on the weekends at his church as a lay pastor. The next day, to everyone’s astonishment, Walsh was fired. Why? Because he dared to preach what the Bible says on issues from sexuality to evolution.
“This has been very painful for me,” he told Fox News’s Todd Starnes at the time. “I really am a strong believer in the Constitution, but now I feel like maybe all these ideals and values that I was raised to believe — the ideals the country was founded upon — no longer exist.” Of course, Georgia’s DPH insisted it had nothing to do with his biblical beliefs, but as our friends at First Liberty Institute know, that was nothing but a vain attempt to cover their tracks for what should be an open-and-shut case of religious discrimination.
Since 2015, the case has taken some interesting twists and turns, including a Houston-esque subpoena for Walsh’s sermons, sermon notes, and even his Bible! Like far too many people, the government not only scrutinized Dr. Walsh for his Christian beliefs — but used those beliefs against him! That’s not only unconstitutional — it’s un-American! Fortunately, the state finally realized as much and decided to settle before its intolerance was made even more visible and painful as this case wound its way through the courts.
Now, months into his legal battle, Dr. Walsh can finally celebrate. “It’s been a long, difficult journey,” he said today, “but it’s worth it to have my name cleared and to ensure that all Georgia government employees know they have religious liberty.” First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys is hopeful that this case will help send the message that religious discrimination won’t be tolerated. And 40,387 of you helped make it possible! Tens of thousands of you signed our petition and supported us when we played a part in Dr. Walsh’s press conference in Atlanta. As First Liberty says, that was all crucial in making Georgia officials feel the pressure. Hopefully, other states will think twice before trying to use Americans’ religious beliefs against them!
- A country that’s free to help the poor and the needy and the immigrants. (Might I encourage all of those who believe this is true to support adopting a foreign child, an immigrant. Pam and I have adopted two. You see, it’s more than just talk about immigrants on blogs and social media that really counts. It’s more than espousing idealogical profundity, it’s about putting your money where your mouth is.)
- A country that is free to allow other religions to worship as they so choose.
- A country where we, yes… allow a Muslim to wear a hijab to work and people to burn flags, (as awful as that seems to me). Yet, freedom is freedom in a “FREE COUNTRY,” right?
- A country that, yes… still allows Christians to believe the Bible and to live out their faith in the marketplace. In other words, a country where it should continue to remain free for even the CHRISTIAN to express their faith and PRACTICE their religion anywhere at anytime (not just in a church building or religious center).
- A country where Bible-believing, followers of Christ don’t have to look over their shoulders before they say the name, “Jesus” or quote scripture.
- A country where we actually remember why we were founded in the first place, (religious freedom), by a people who actually believed in the Bible and lived by it in their daily lives.