Barronelle Stutzman and Religious Coercion

The Alliance Defending Freedom has a video on Barronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington State sued for not providing services for a same-sex marriage.  On Feb 18, 2015 a State Judged ruled that by not making arrangements for the service, Stutzman violated anti-discrimination laws, stating:

“On the evening of November 5, 2012, there was no conflict … The following evening, after the … enactment of same-sex marriage, there would eventually be a direct and insoluble conflict between Stutzman’s religiously motivated conduct and the laws of the State of Washington.  Stutzman cannot comply with both the law and her faith if she continues to provide flowers for weddings as part of her duly-licensed business, Arlene’s Flowers.”

I want to point out two things about this.  First, this isn’t the case of refusing to sell a product to someone.  It’s a crucial distinction to make.  Refusing to be engaged creatively with something against your conviction is different from not provided a material product to someone you disagree with.  As the facts in the judges opinion noted, she was willing to provide flowers, but not do the arrangements herself.  While flower arrangements might not be expressive as lyric, the parallel is demanding that a musician compose a piece celebrating something he or she disagrees with.  (We have no problem when a musician asks a politician to stop using songs because of party affiliation.)

The second thing is that, as Stutzman explains, for Christians marriage is sacred.  It is a sacred event.  Christian weddings are worship services.  For some traditions they are sacraments, in the same category as the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.  In other words in a Christian understanding this is coerced participation in a worship service.  Stutzman had provided services to one of the plaintiffs for nine years.  She understands the difference between providing flowers for a birthday or valentines day and participation in what Christians understand to be a sacred ceremony.

There are attempts to reduce our first amendment right to the “free exercise of religion” into freedom of opinion or freedom of worship.  But exercise, for any religion means that convictions must be lived out through real decisions.  Whether that is through the decision to act, such as feeding the hungry, or a refusal to act, as in the case of conscientious objection to military service, the exercise of religion cannot be reduced to personal thought or private worship.  When someone is coerced by the state into participating on a creative level against their convictions in an event they understand as worship we are in danger of losing even that emaciated understanding.

3 thoughts on “Barronelle Stutzman and Religious Coercion

  1. But Scott, were these guys trying to wed as Christians? Had the florist previously worked marriage ceremonies for outright unbelievers? If no Christian for whom “marriage is sacred” is taking vows, then no Christian wedding or “worship service” is happening, by your view that “Christian weddings are worship services.” Which definition the CRCNA Church Order disputes, saying “[M]arriages may be solemnized either in a worship service or in private gatherings of relatives and friends.”

  2. Thanks for your comment nocable. I can see your point, but I don’t intend to argue for the validity of this service as Christian worship. What I mean is that a wedding ceremony is understood by Christians as a religious event. A wedding ceremony, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Wiccan, (I might even argue civil), is by nature a religious ceremony in which no one should be compelled to participate. I’m certainly not saying a Christian shouldn’t serve or participate in any service that doesn’t qualify as Christian worship, but that decision should be guided by an individual’s conscience not the state.

  3. Here’s one appraisal: Scripture lays down requirements for Christians marrying. Both nature (the natural law) and God’s Word instruct us that man should only join himself to woman. Divorce and remarriage are restricted greatly, believers should wed only believers. If conversion takes place following marriage, the new believer should remain with the unbelieving spouse, praying for the spouse’s conversion also. Now, marriage is a rite for unbelievers, also, for society’s orderly and civil functioning. They won’t be much bound by biblical strictures, although it’d work for their good. They are bound, though, by nature to male-female wedlock only. I think the Christian florist decided long ago she could tolerate arranging weddings which were problematical from a Christian view, but still were permissible from a natural law standpoint in the civic sphere. Now that courts have dismissed the rule of nature–which Christians hold as from God Himself–in regulating marital coupling, the lady rebels and refuses to accede to a gay marriage request. A red line has been crossed, for Stutzman and all society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *