Three updates on the continuing struggle for religious liberty

Arlene’s Flowers, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and Sweet Cakes

June 20, 2019

In recent days, three victims of religious intolerance have appeared in the news cycle. Two of them have been there before, but a third now enters the mix.

Barronelle Stutzman

The first is Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. Back in 2013, she made news for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex marriage. While she never refused to provide flowers for her LGBT customers, Stutzman’s conscience would not allow her to use her artistic gifts in a way that would celebrate something that she believed was wrong.

Forcing Stutzman to make flowers for the celebration of a same-sex marriage is, in essence, a form of compelled speech, which violates her freedom of speech and religion. On June 6, 2019, however, Seattle Times reported that “Washington’s court system did not act with religious animus when it ruled that Stutzman broke the state’s anti-discrimination law.” Washington state’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Stutzman, reaffirming an early decision from 2017.

Jack Phillips

The other victim of intolerance is Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. This is the third time that Phillips has been sued for refused to violate his conscience and use his artistic gifts to celebrate an event or ideology that is contrary to his beliefs. In this specific instance, Phillips was asked to bake and decorate a cake that celebrated a Colorado lawyer’s transgender identity. While Phillips was happy to make cakes for his LGBT customers, as in the past, he refused to make the cake on religious grounds. Now Phillips finds himself being sued a third time for not violating his conscience and allowing his speech to be compelled to endorse a lifestyle that is contrary to his religious convictions.

Aaron and Melissa Klein

The latest victims are Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon. On June 17, the Supreme Court of the United States sent Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries back to the lower courts to be considered in light of the last summer’s ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop. As with the two previous cases, the Kleins did not refuse to serve LGBT patrons, but rather, they refused to use their artistic gifts to celebrate a same-sex marriage. The Klein family’s refusal to violate their conscience led to the closure of the business in 2013 due to being fined $135,000 by the state.

The “intolerance of tolerance”

At this point, it is important to reiterate that neither Stutzman, Phillips, or the Kleins refused to serve LGBT patrons. Instead, they refused to be compelled to use their artistic gifts to celebrate something that violated their conscience.

As D. A. Carson puts it, all of these cases represent the “intolerance of tolerance.” In a progressive society that claims to value tolerance, it is clear that only one form of tolerance is extended, and it does not include the religious convictions of conservative Christians. Principally, however, anyone who cares about freedom of speech should care about these three cases. If the government can compel an individual or institution to affirm a message or ideology that is contrary to their sincerely held religious or nonreligious beliefs, then freedom of religion and freedom of speech vanishes. A truly tolerant society presupposes a place for disagreement among its members. Yet, these cases demonstrate that the hard-fought battle for freedom of speech and freedom of religion is not over. As long as florists and bakers are expected to use their God-given gifts to support and celebrate messages that are contrary to the convictions of the artists, the struggle to live and worship freely will continue.

For Christians watching these cases unfold, we should not only pray for Barronelle Stutzman, Jack Phillips, and the Kleins but we should observe their courageous example. Admittedly, it would have been so much easier for them to simply arrange the flowers and bake the cakes. Yet, instead of capitulating to the spirit of the age, they chose to remain true to their religious convictions. They chose to please God rather than man (Gal. 1:10). In this life, their decisions might cost them their livelihood. But as Jesus promised, no one who loses family or possessions for his sake and the gospel will fail to be recompensed in this present life and next (Mark 10:29-30). We, therefore, ought to aim to live faithfully in this present evil age, from which Christ has promised to deliver us (Gal. 1:4).

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough is lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and a Ph.D. student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also blogs regularly at www.CaseyHough.com. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters.  Read More