Religious freedom was not meant to give people the right to force their beliefs on others.
By Carl Petersen

“If a gay person seeks God, who am I to judge him?”
-Pope Francis (1)

Somewhere in the bible Barronelle Stutzman has found the commandment Thou Shalt Not Provide Flowers to a Same-Sex Wedding. Therefore, when a long term customer tried to hire her for his wedding, she told him that she would not take the job “because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.” (2) Washington’s Attorney General found this to be a violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws and filed a consumer protection lawsuit. The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a countersuit claiming that “In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith.” (3)

It is unlikely that in order to fulfill her duties as a florist Ms. Stutzman would have been required to exchange marriage vows. Nor was she being asked to officiate the proceedings. I have also not seen any evidence that she was being forced to participate in the consummation of the marriage or to even witness those events. She was being asked to provide flowers for a party, not to give her personal approval of the marriage. She had no more responsibility for the cause for the celebration than a grocer would to make sure that the cucumber is actually being purchased for consumption in a salad. Unless her religion forbade the killing of plants, it is hard to see how performing these services would have violated her religious beliefs.

The lawsuit would not have been brought if Ms. Stutzman had kept her reservations to herself and simply told her customer that she was not available to take the job. It was only her desire to evangelize her beliefs and vocalize her judgment of the customer that landed her in hot water. One could look at this as a violation of the florist’s free speech rights since everyone has a right to be intolerant. However, does society have an obligation to intervene when someone acts on this intolerance? If one can condone her actions because her customer was gay, would they feel the same if he was black? What if the discrimination was based on his religion? The answer to that question might depend on the the religious denomination.

The Thomas More Law Center is an organization that is very concerned with religious freedoms. To be more clear, they defend “the religious freedom of Christians.” (4) One of their clients is Paul Fields, who also refused a work assignment on the grounds that it violated his religious principles. As a captain in the Tulsa police department he was ordered to attend a “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day” at a local mosque as part of the department’s community outreach program. (5) He refused to follow this directive on the grounds that forcing him “to enter a Mosque when it is not directly related to a police call for service is a violation of [his] Civil Rights.” (6) He further clarified during a deposition that he has a religious “duty to proselytize [his] faith to people that are not of [his] faith” and since muslims “don’t have the same beliefs” he could not “in good conscience, sit mute and not say anything because that violates [his] religious conscience.” (7) At least he had the good sense to know that it is a social faux pas to tell someone that they are going to hell while you are in their own house of worship.

If an employee is not a Conservative Christian, the law center does not seem to recognize that they have the same constitutional right to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their faith without interference from their employer. In fact, they filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation in their attempt to exclude health care options from insurance plans because they disagree with them. It is the center’s position that forcing them to pay“for insurance plans that facilitate or contribute to” the decision to use birth control, violated the freedom of the business “to think, to speak, and to worship God without government interference or unjustified restriction.” (8) If one did not know better they might think that the government was seeking to force feed birth control pills to the business every morning.

In reality, birth control has not been given special status by Obamacare. It is simply treated in the same manner as all preventive care. We are all still free to take advantage of the benefit depending on our own personal values. Isn’t this how we should measure the extent of any of our freedoms?