A florist loses religious freedom, and much more

Story highlights

  • Barronelle Stutzman was sued for not providing flowers for a same-sex wedding.
  • On Thursday, a Washington State judge ruled against Stutzman

Denny Burk is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he also serves as the director of the Center for Gospel and Culture. The views expressed in this column belong to Burk.

(CNN)If you have not been following the case of Barronelle Stutzman, you should be.

Stutzman is the Washington florist who has been sued for living out her Christian beliefs. In 2013, a long-time friend and customer came to her flower shop and asked her to provide flowers for his gay wedding. Stutzman had known this man and had done business with him for about nine years. Nevertheless, she told him that she could not participate in his wedding "because of my relationship with Jesus."
    The man's partner subsequently spread the word via social media. As a result, the attorney general of Washington State sued Stutzman for violating the state's anti-discrimination law. The two men also sued her in their personal capacity and were represented by the ACLU. As a result of these lawsuits, Stutzman stands to lose her business, her home, and her personal savings. Her whole life hangs in the balance with this case.
    Yesterday, a Washington State judge issued a summary judgment that went against her. Stutzman's legal team put out this statement explaining what this means:
    A state judge ruled Wednesday that Washington floral artist and grandmother Barronelle Stutzman must provide full support for wedding ceremonies that are contrary to her faith.
    The court also ruled recently that both the state and the same-sex couple, who each filed lawsuits against her, may collect damages and attorneys fees not only from her business, but from Stutzman personally. That means the 70-year-old grandmother may not only lose her business, but also her home and savings because she lives her life and operates her business according to her beliefs.
    "The message of these rulings is unmistakable: The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don't help celebrate same-sex marriage," said Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who argued before the court in December.
    The decision against Stutzman sets a dreadful precedent against our first freedom in the Bill of Rights: religious liberty. The court says that she is free to believe what she wants, but not to practice her religious beliefs. The court has ruled that if she wants to run a business in the state of Washington, she must defy her conscience and participate in same-sex weddings. If she does not, then the full coercive power of the state -- as well as civil liability -- will be brought against her.
    Keep in mind that Stutzman does not refuse service to gay people. Indeed she had been selling flowers to this gay couple for nine years. She has also employed gay people in her flower shop. She had a friendship with the man suing her and cared for him personally and wished for her relationship with him to continue. She simply could not defy her conscience and lend her creative talent to help celebrate what her faith says she cannot celebrate. She had no idea that staying true to her faith would end up threatening her entire livelihood and savings.
    We are witnessing a shift in our society -- a shift which inevitably leads to Christians being treated as pariahs at every level of our national life. Louie Giglio's Christian views on marriage got him removed from the President's inauguration. Brendan Eich's support for traditional marriage got him dismissed as CEO of Mozilla. Kelvin Cochran's Christian faith got him fired from his position as fire chief of Atlanta. Two bakers in Oregon had to shutter their business and are now facing bankruptcy for refusing to participate in a gay wedding. The stories are mounting. Who will be next?
    This summer, the Supreme Court will rule on gay marriage, and many observers expect the ruling to be a Roe v. Wade-type legal landmark, perhaps declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The Congress may consider again a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would make sexual orientation and gender identity into protected classes. This means that what is happening to Barronelle Stutzman in Washington State could be happening to Christians nationwide in very short order.
    Barronelle Stutzman's case is nothing less than an egregious violation of our first freedom. It is Caesar saying, "Conscience be damned. Submit to the new sexual orthodoxy or risk losing everything."
    This is not tolerance. This is injustice that flies in the face of this nation's laws and traditions. And if this kind of thing can be done to a 70-year-old grandmother running a small flower shop in rural Washington State, then it can be done to you. No one's conscience is safe if this precedent becomes the norm.