State should protect business owners

Barronelle Stutzman’s “relationship with Jesus Christ” doesn’t give her the freedom to turn down business – even if that business violates her personal beliefs. Or so said a Benton County Superior Court judge in his decision against her in 2013.

Barronelle Stutzman’s “relationship with Jesus Christ” doesn’t give her the freedom to turn down business – even if that business violates her personal beliefs. Or so said a Benton County Superior Court judge in his decision against her in 2013.

On Feb. 7 of this year, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld that ruling with a unanimous decision against the 72-year-old grandmother and Richland florist. Stutzman’s argument did not hold up, that as a devout Baptist Christian, she could not in good conscience arrange flowers for a gay wedding. She gave Robert Ingersoll, the customer, a list of other florists, two of which offered to do the flower arrangements for free.

Ironically, before the lawsuit, Stutzman had a warm, nine-year relationship with Ingersoll, greeting him with a hug each time he came into the store. Through the years she sold him $4,500 worth of flowers. Stutzman had hired gays to work in her store.

The relationship between Stutzman and Ingersoll changed two months after Washington passed its gay marriage law in 2013. Ingersoll wanted Stutzman to arrange flowers for his marriage to his partner. In a five-minute conversation, she refused on religious grounds.

Upon hearing of this incident, Bob Ferguson, Washington state’s attorney general, decided to not only sue her business, Arlene’s Flowers, for breaking Washington’s voter-approved gay marriage law, but also to bully her into compliance by suing her personally. That meant that if she lost, she would lose her retirement, her home and her assets to pay the court costs.

The same thing happened to an Oregon baker in 2013 who was required to pay a gay couple $150,000 in damages for refusing to bake a cake for their wedding in that state. There are other similar cases pending across the nation.

It’s likely that Stutzman’s case will be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court either this year or in 2018.

The case represents a clash between two amendments to the Constitution: the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection of the law clause. Which takes precedence? Those who see gay marriage as a civil rights issue side with the state. Those who oppose this view cite the second part of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof.”

Ferguson’s oral argument before the State Supreme Court was, “We must differentiate between the freedom to believe and the freedom to act.” In other words, you can believe anything, but your actions must obey the law whether it is against your religious ethics or not. This flies in the face of “the free exercise thereof” in the First Amendment.

Usually those who favor Ferguson’s approach cite the South’s miscegenation laws forbidding interracial marriages on religious grounds, saying one’s religious views can’t violate the rights of others. Religious beliefs were also cited for racial discrimination in the civil rights cases of the 1960s and 1970s, and rightly so. The Jim Crow laws that took away their freedoms harmed black lives in the South.

The difference between those civil rights cases and the legal question that has not yet been asked in the Stutzman and related cases is, “Where’s the harm?”

The Jim Crow laws definitely damaged blacks, both psychologically and financially. The same cannot be said about Barronelle Stutzman’s case. Ingersoll and his partner may have been insulted and inconvenienced, but they were not harmed financially. There were plenty of florists who would have done the flower arrangements for them.

The harm comes to the loss of income and occupations of thousands of devout Christian, Muslim and Jewish florists, bakers, photographers and wedding venue providers across the nation who will be forced to either close their businesses or give up their religious values.

This law, set up to give freedom to gays, has become a form of religious persecution for thousands. The progressives who tout tolerance for all their beliefs seem to be intolerant of the values and views of religious believers. Hopefully, the appointment of a conservative justice to the U.S. Supreme Court will protect the freedom and First Amendment rights of businesspeople like Barronelle Stutzman. This travesty must not stand.

More in Opinion

Maybe it’s time Congress takes back its power

The Constitution gives Congress the most power of the three branches of government.

Poking dead things with sticks

They don’t mince words when they call it a “crawl space,” do they?

America is denying three hard truths

There are three major hard truths that our current government has been denying with great vigor: The Mueller Russia-U.S. Presidential election connection investigation, the war in Afghanistan, and the growing national deficit.

Promote the common good by ensuring individual liberty

Citizens following their passions and dreams improve the lot for all.

The three personas of President Trump

There’s Teleprompter Trump, Raw Meat Trump and Twitter Trump.

Carbon pricing won’t help environment, but will hurt taxpayers

How would a Washington carbon tax make a difference in the world “climate?”

Voting for the levy with make a major #impact for our schools

I have four children in Enumclaw public schools and they all benefit from programs that are supported by the renewal of the operational levy.

Great schools mean great communities

As former elected School Board Member, State Legislator and King County Judge, we understand the importance of educating all children.

Political soap opera won’t end until midterm elections

Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as President Trump, have all taken gambles that will shape the November midterms.

A small act of kindness can make a big impact | SoHaPP

Join SoHaPP’s book group this February to discuss “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. Don’t have the book? Check it out at the Enumclaw Library or visit The Sequel.

Vote ‘yes’ on replacement Education Programs levy

As a high school senior that has spent the entirety of my school life in Enumclaw, I know we have to take it upon ourselves to ensure the efficiency and inclusiveness of our school system.

Concern for common good is buried by greed

Tell big lies long and loudly enough and people will believe you.