Imagine you are a devout 68-year-old Southern Baptist Christian, living in Richland, Washington, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, a floral shop, for over 20 years. The date is March 28, 2013. Your name is Barronelle Stutzman. You are aware that the state of Washington has passed a referendum legalizing gay marriage. Based upon your religious faith and your understanding of the Bible’s teachings, gay marriage is a sin. The Apostle Paul warned Christians in I Timothy 5:22: “Do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” To you, arranging flowers for a gay marriage would be a violation of your most deeply held religious beliefs.
You recently turned down an old friend and customer, Rob Ingersoll, who had asked you to arrange flowers for his gay wedding. Over the past nine years he purchased $4,500 worth of flowers from you. During that time, you would greet each other with a hug when he entered the store. Rob is hurt by your refusal, but you explained to him about your convictions and how creating custom arrangements would violate your beliefs as a Christian. You suggested other florists who would be happy to serve him. As he left, you hugged again.
Two weeks later, you receive a letter from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. Your pulse rises, and you begin to feel anxious as you read the letter. A State Assistant Attorney General writes: “You refused to sell floral arrangements to a same-sex couple for their wedding because of the couple’s sexual orientation.” A lump forms in your throat, and your stomach starts churning.
The letter has a legal attachment included that looks very intimidating, like something that could take you to court. Your heart beats faster as you are told that you need to agree to sign the Assurance of Discontinuance (AOD) and promise not to “discriminate against consumers based on their sexual orientation in the future” or you will face “civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation and attorneys’ fees and costs.”
How would you feel if you received such a document?
If you were Barronelle Stutzman and had received such a letter from the AG, you would realize that if you wanted to remain faithful to your Christian beliefs, you stood to lose everything you owned, including your business, your house, and your pension, due to unending legal bills. Such a constitutional issue might take years to be resolved. (See her video at www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/8608 to hear her words on this issue. In my column, I paraphrased Stutzman saying Ferguson’s letter threatened “to take away my livelihood” and that penalties and legal costs “could be well over a million dollars.”)
You would likely feel your whole future and freedom to practice your deeply held religious convictions were now threatened. You would have to choose between your faith and obedience to the State. It might seem to you that the rights of one group of Americans, gay people, were now being put above others’ religious rights under the 1st Amendment. Your civil rights have been trampled upon to protect another group from discrimination. What irony!