In the ongoing cultural disputes that pit a person’s sexual “identity” against a person’s religious liberty, it’s not often that you see eye-popping courage and conviction. This is just what was on display last week when florist Barronelle Stutzman wrote a letter to Washington State’s Attorney General, stating her intent to not settle a discrimination lawsuit filed against her for refusing to lend her creative talents and services to a same-sex ceremony. Her brief letter is worth quoting in full:
Dear Mr. Ferguson,
Thank you for reaching out and making an offer to settle your case against me.
As you may imagine, it has been mentally and emotionally exhausting to be at the center of this controversy for nearly two years. I never imagined that using my God-given talents and abilities, and doing what I love to do for over three decades, would become illegal. Our state would be a better place if we respected each other’s differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences. Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.
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. Thanks again for writing and I hope you will consider my offer.
Ms. Stutzman isn’t complying. She’s refusing to settle. Not only is she not complying, she has responded in defiance, and rightfully so. She’s called their bluff. She’s said to the state: “Bring it on.” She has counted the cost and determined that the sacredness of her conscience cannot be exchanged for handouts from the state.
For her stand, she’s been vilified on social media and called a discriminatory bigot by institutions such as Think Progress, one of whose activists insisted that her failure to comply means she “didn’t learn her lesson.”
She is also threatened with the loss of her personal assets, not just her business. Here’s a seventy-year-old grandmother with less money, less cultural capital, than many who would be unwilling to take such a stand.
The gay rights lobby in America has had much success, but it is overreaching by insisting upon ideological conformity, by overturning the centrality of the natural family, by paving-over conscience, by instilling fear of reprisal, by elevating sexual orientation above competing considerations, by subjugating the Christian religion whose anthropology helped shape our constitutional order. They overreach by castigating fellow Americans whose beliefthat marriage turns on the malefemale differencehas been held since the beginning of recorded history.
Those who want to live in a free societywhether they oppose or support gay marriageshould condemn the push to turn innocent grandmothers like Barronelle Stutzman into lawbreakers. I stand with Barronelle Stutzman. Do you?
Andrew Walker is Director of Policy Studies at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a PhD student in Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Image adapted from Alliance Defending Freedom.