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Religious Liberty and the Courts

Religious liberty, a primary founding principle of the United States of America, is under attack by the political left. Not exactly a news flash I know, but the strikes are getting more direct. The current tactic is to use claims of discrimination to force people of faith to participate in acts that are counter to their beliefs in the name of inclusion and tolerance. There are a few examples of this force participation making headlines right now, but I will focus on two.

Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, found herself in the crosshairs of the Washington judicial system when she refused to make a custom floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding in 2013. She is a Christian and as such, feels that it is wrong for her to actively use her talents for an activity that is contrary to her faith. Because of Stutzman’s refusal, she was found to have violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination despite having offered to sell the couple whatever pre-made floral arrangement they would like. The case was kicked back to the Washington state courts by the SCOTUS in 2018 shortly after the SCOTUS’s very narrow ruling on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case where they determined that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had demonstrated animus toward the religious beliefs of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips.

The High court, while kicking the case back down to the state court, warned against making the same mistake that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had made and then washed their hands of the Arlene’s Flowers matter (at least for that moment). The Washington Supreme Court issued a ruling on June 6th, 2019 against Barronelle Stutzman stating that she had indeed violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination. The Washington Supreme Court also said that after having “painstakingly reviewed the record for any sign of intolerance on behalf of this court or the Benton County Superior Court, the two adjudicatory bodies to consider this case,” that they were “confident that the two courts gave full and fair consideration to this dispute and avoided animus toward religion.” In simple terms, (after checking themselves for animus toward Stutzman’s religious beliefs), they have ordered Stutzman that she must ignore her religious beliefs. The Washington Supreme Court has decreed that their law for forced participation is more critical than Religious liberty.

As mentioned earlier, the SCOTUS did issue a ruling on behalf of Jack Phillips and the Masterpiece Cakeshop in 2018. The court found in a 7-2 decision that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had openly expressed hostility towards the religious beliefs of Phillips. The SCOTUS ruled, based on that animus alone, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had overstepped legal bounds and dismissed the case in favor of Phillips. However, they did not address the deeper issue of Religious Liberty, which left the door open for further legal action against Phillips. Masterpiece Cakeshop and Jack Phillips are now facing a third lawsuit (the second was tossed out) alleging discrimination. This latest suit was filed June 5th, 2019 in Denver District Court on behalf of Autumn Scardina by attorneys Paula Greisen and John McHugh. Scardina is the same woman who filed the second lawsuit alleging discrimination after Masterpiece Cakeshop denied her request for a cake to celebrate her gender transition. Reporting on the latest suit has been vague on details about the requested cake this time. However, previous filings indicate that Scardina has gone out of her way on several occasions to seek cakes from Masterpiece Cakeshop that they will not make. Requests including cakes with pentagrams, upside-down crosses and even one that would have featured “a large figure of Satan, licking a 9″ black operational sex toy.” A would-be LGBTQ SJW is harassing Phillips to punish him for his perceived bigotry.

It is only a matter of time before the SCOTUS has one of these cases, or one a lot like them, in front of them again. There are only so many times that they will be able to dodge rendering a verdict on the merit of Religious Liberty. Given the push from the political left, the matter is unavoidable. I do understand why the High Court would prefer the lower courts to handle the issue; after all, the Constitution is very clear on the matter. However, no one wants to be the person(s) who opens the door to giving a pass to real bigotry. It would be very easy for someone to claim a religious exemption simply, but circumstances make it very clear if it is sincerely held belief or prejudice at play. If a business will serve customers from a “protected group” but refuses to engage in particular tasks for special events (same-sex weddings, gender reassignment celebrations, etc.) for those customers it does not equate to bigotry. If a business refuses to serve a member of a “protected group” at all, then you may reasonably assume discrimination.

Discrimination, despite the history of occurrence in this nation, is un-American. It is an unwelcome practice that is frowned upon by people on both sides of the political spectrum. People being forced to participate in activities that they do not wish to be a part of is also un-American. In these cases, you have both the First Amendment’s protections of Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech at play as well as the long-held belief of Freedom of Association.

Freedom of association does allow for bigotry to occur, but it will be out in the open for all to see. Everyone can make decisions based on knowing the truth about the people you interact with in life. Laws like the Washington Law Against Discrimination don’t stop bigotry; they only hide it. Freedom of Speech gives everyone the right to their own political views and the right to express those views using their talents. The Culture war has been (and is being) fought in the political sphere, making refusing to “participate” a form of political speech. Freedom of Religion acknowledges everyone’s right to pursue their faith as long as their practices do not cause actual harm to others. Actual harm does not mean hurting your feelings; if it did, then we wouldn’t have freedom of speech.

Forcing people to defy their conscience concerning their religious views is (on a philosophical level) no different than forced conversion therapy or re-education camps run by fascists. It demands that people be de-humanized and all value torn away from their thoughts. Laws like the Washington Law Against Discrimination that would force people to participate in activities that violate basic tenants of their faith do precisely that.

No group, organization, or government has the right to strip fundamental freedoms from the citizens of this nation. If the Washington Law Against Discrimination indeed does require Barronelle Stutzman to make floral arrangements for same-sex weddings, then it denies Stutzman a few fundamental freedoms. First, her freedom of religion as she believes the Bible definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Second, it denies her freedom of speech as it compels her to show support for things that she does not agree with through the use of her talents. If that is the case, then the Washington Law Against Discrimination cannot withstand a SCOTUS hearing, it is unconstitutional. Moreover, the continuing efforts by the left against people like Barronelle Stutzman and Jack Phillips is downright un-American.

Tim Tapp
Tim Tapp
Tim Tapp grew up in a Democratic household where the values of helping others, loving God and America were taught. Sadly, as he transitioned from his late teenage years into adulthood, he learned the hard way that much of what the Democratic party promised and claimed to be their beliefs were little more than pretty words, and often flat-out lies. Having studied biology, he worked in management and QA for restaurants and food manufactures before becoming politically active. Never being one who was afraid to speak up and being armed with the knowledge of the failings of the Democratic party while understanding that most Democratic voters are good-hearted, well-meaning people, he is the host of the syndicated, conservative talk show "Tapp" into the Truth. He still calls East Tennessee home, as he lives with his wife and youngest daughter in Rockwood (not far from Knoxville), but has strong ties to all of Roane County.