By: Jared Dobbs
What if Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington florist who declined to create artistic floral arrangements celebrating a same-sex wedding ceremony, had never met Rob Ingersoll?
Rob, the man who the ACLU represents in the lawsuit against her, has very stark political and religious differences with Barronelle, but they had still maintained a friendship with one another for nearly a decade. They bonded over flowers. Rob loved Barronelle’s custom creations; he would make an order and tell her to “do your thing.”
When Rob asked her to design floral art celebrating his wedding with another man, she politely declined. Even though Barronelle loves Rob, she could not use her artistic talents to celebrate an understanding of marriage that so sharply conflicts with her religious beliefs. Now an ACLU lawsuit threatens her house, her business, and her savings.
Recently, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Barronelle and in favor of the ACLU. But Barronelle, represented by ADF attorneys, plans to appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some might argue that if Barronelle cannot in good conscience create floral arrangements for same-sex weddings, then she should get out of the flower business. But such a proposal is unacceptable in our country—and not only because of the harm done to Barronelle and her livelihood.
The Importance of Diverse Friendships
Friendships with those who strongly disagree with us most often occur in societies where we are free to disagree.
Americans have learned to befriend one another despite many personal differences. But it is difficult to befriend people unlike you in an intolerant society.
If Rob prevails in his lawsuit, Christians like Barronelle will be forced to withdraw from parts of civil society. Civil society is that space between individuals and government where we share our common life—it includes schools, coffee houses, churches, charities, and family businesses like Barronelle’s flower shop.
In a civil society where florists may not follow their conscience, Rob would be less likely to get to know Barronelle, admire her artistic talent, and observe her Christian witness. If Barronelle and Rob had never met, both would have lost something—the good of listening and learning from someone different than themselves.
Instead, they would have been more likely to allow like-minded friends and media to reinforce preexisting conceptions about their neighbors. Both would have been a little less willing to lend a sympathetic ear—and a little more willing to dismiss the other. Multiply that throughout society, and you have a recipe for social instability, particularly in a pluralistic culture like ours.
In contrast, good friendships across partisan lines and religious divides help bind a pluralistic culture together. Everyone participates fully in civil society, which means that we’re constantly exposed to and challenged by the views of people who are different from us.
A True Policy of Freedom
But what about business? Freedom-of-conscience opponents are often happy to let Barronelle and Rob explore their differences—until the moment Barronelle steps into her flower shop. Creating artistic floral arrangements for Arlene’s Flowers, her family business, is how Barronelle supports her family. Opponents argue that Barronelle’s views on marriage should therefore remain private, sectioned off from her work, because she sells her art. But our consciences are sticky: they remain with us wherever we go. And people who act in accordance with their conscience every day, regardless of context, are said to act with integrity.
Friendships also naturally form where we work; in fact, Barronelle and Rob’s friendship arose precisely because of her small business. Most able-bodied adults spend a majority of their waking hours at work. If Barronelle were not able to act according to conscience in running her small business, Rob’s interactions with her would be superficial, and their friendship would be stunted. They would not truly get to know each other.
It is thus natural for conscience protections to extend to family businesses. Business is a vital part of civil society, and a crucial forum for developing friendships. Without these conscience protections, especially for small business owners, the government puts dissenting photographers, filmmakers, and T-shirt printers in a straitjacket. Conform—or suffer the consequences.
These are contributing members of society who harbor no animus, but understand marriage as bringing together one man and one woman as husband and wife in order to protect, love, and raise the children that result from their union.
When the government does not protect freedom of conscience, it forces dissenters to withdraw from those civic spheres. This is not sustainable for our diverse constitutional republic, and it is unbecoming of the land of the free.
Stand With Barronelle
As mentioned above, the Washington State Supreme Court recently ruled against Barronelle, punishing her simply for running her business consistently with her faith. We need your help to stand for Barronelle and stand up to the ACLU. We will be appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. A financial gift today will ensure that we have the resources needed to defend freedom for Barronelle and for all Americans.
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