In defense of conviction

by James Silberman

Ontologically speaking, what separates human from animal is the conscience. The ability to discern right from wrong is one of the foundational aspects of being created in God’s image. If we have no conscience, or no ability to express our conscience, then we are barely human.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, citizens Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed, and the ironically named American Civil Liberties Union are currently campaigning to take the freedom of conscience away from every Washington state citizen.

This is not about homosexuality and it’s not about Christianity. This is about the fundamental liberty of each one of us as American citizens to live our lives according to our deeply-held beliefs.

Baronelle Stutzman, 71, is a small business owner in Richland, Washington. In the summer of 2013, Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, was approached by Ingersoll, a longtime friend and customer. Ingersoll was engaged to be married and wanted Stutzman to supply the flowers for the wedding between him and Freed, his husband-to-be.

“That was a real struggle to decide what to do with that,” Stutzman said in a video released by her defense attorney at Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF). “My husband and I talked it over, and as much as I loved Rob, I just couldn’t be a part of that. If I did Rob’s wedding, it would be from my heart, because he’s a really special person, and I would want to make it really special for him.”

Upon telling Ingersoll that her conscience would not allow her to provide flowers for the wedding, according to Stutzman, they hugged and left on good terms.

“It was a painful thing to try to explain to someone I cared about — one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” Stutzman said according to a Seattle Times article. “But Rob assured me he understood. And I suggested three other nearby florists… We seemed to part as friends. But then I was sued.”

Keep in mind that Stutzman does not refuse to serve to anybody. Ingersoll was a client of hers for more than nine years. She only refused to use her artistic abilities to participate in the celebration of something that she saw as immoral.

“Barronelle and many others like her around the country have been willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner in an ADF press release.

Stutzman and Ingersoll are now locked in a drawn-out court battle that will be heard by the Washington State Supreme Court. Based on the precedent being set by other similar cases from around the nation, everything Stutzman owns is at risk of being taken from her if she refuses to violate her convictions about marriage.

In New York, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, were fined $13,000 for refusing to perform a gay marriage in their own backyard.

In Oregon, Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of a family bakery, were ordered to pay damages of $135,000 for refusing to cater a gay wedding. They were also given a gag order declaring that they must “cease and desist” from speaking publicly about the details of the case or their religious beliefs. Their business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, has since closed down.

In Coeur d’Alene, ministers Donald and Evelyn Knapp were threatened with jail time, misdemeanor charges and thousands of dollars in fines by local officials if they refused to officiate same-sex weddings.

These are just a few cases among many.

For Christian small business owners everywhere, the government has made their position clear: spit on your own conscience or pay thousands of dollars while watching your business crumble.

Canadian philosopher, Stefan Molyneux, frames the issue rather succinctly. Molyneux is a libertarian, meaning that he believes gay marriage should be legal in the eyes of the government. But for the same reasons, he also believes that every individual must be free from government coercion in all areas of their lives.

“If you have no freedom of conscience, you have no freedom at all. Conscious must be inviolate. It’s the essence of who we are,” Molyneux said on his Freedomain Radio show. “When people can force you to go against what your conscience dictates, they own you more deeply than any slave master.”

If things continue to go the way they are going, the government will soon have the unchecked capability to strong-arm individuals of any race, religion or creed into acting in violation of their conscience. It is my hope that every individual, Christian and Atheist, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, straight and gay, will reject that kind of totalitarianism.

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