By: Emily Conley
Update: After much consideration, the Giffords have decided to not appeal the ruling and are evaluating how to best run Liberty Ridge Farm under a legal regime that disregards their convictions. Needless to say, this kind of governmental coercion should disturb every freedom-loving American no matter where you stand on marriage. We are thankful for the Giffords’ willingness to take a stand for their faith. We as Americans must think hard about how we want the future of the United States to look. William Bradford and the pilgrims landed in Plymouth less than 200 miles from Liberty Ridge Farm in order to find freedom from a government that refused to let them live according to their faith. Today, almost 400 years later, should people of faith like Robert and Cynthia be punished for simply trying to live consistent with their convictions on marriage? It us up to us to repair the foundations of freedom, so that all Americans retain their God-given liberty to live according to their religious beliefs. As Erick Erickson puts it in his new book, "You Will Be Made to Care," the fight for liberty is about hope: "Now is the time for engaging culture strategically with an understanding of the times in which we live and a reinvigorated faith in God."
It’s sadly ironic that two days before “Religious Freedom Day,” a New York appellate court would rule that Robert and Cynthia Gifford of Liberty Ridge Farm are not at liberty to abide by their faith in their own backyard.
The backstory: on Sept. 25, 2012, Melisa McCarthy called Cynthia Gifford, inquiring about the use of the farm for her upcoming same-sex ceremony. The Giffords live in a barn they built on their farm and have occasionally hosted weddings on the first floor and the surrounding backyard area. Cynthia serves as a wedding coordinator for those events. Because of her Christian faith’s teachings on marriage, Cynthia politely told Melisa that she could not host the ceremony, but left open an invitation to consider the farm as a potential reception site. Instead, McCarthy and her partner filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights, who ruled against the Giffords. Since then, Cynthia has had to stop coordinating all weddings on her property.
The court upheld the Division’s ruling and the $10,000 fine and $3,000 in damages that the Division ordered the Giffords to pay Ms. McCarthy and her same-sex spouse.
ADF attorneys argued that, just as the First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing an individual to salute the flag in school, it also prohibits the government from forcing a wedding coordinator like Cynthia to plan and participate in a ceremony that violates her faith.
And, as ADF attorneys explained in their brief, the “law does not require the Giffords to coordinate or host every event that a person . . . requests. For example, if the infamous Westboro Baptist group asked the Giffords to host an event that would express their false message that God hates people in same-sex relationships, the Giffords would not be discriminating based on religion if they declined the event because they did not want to host expression that violates their belief that God loves everyone …. The statute does not require that they treat all messages equal.”
“We had hoped that the court would recognize that the government has clearly gone too far,” said co-counsel James Trainor, one of more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF. “The Constitution prohibits the government from forcing anyone to communicate messages that conflict with their core beliefs about marriage. The Giffords welcome all people to the farm, but not all messages or events.”
Unfortunately, the court rejected ADF’s arguments. Our attorneys are considering the next steps in this case.