Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman is facing two lawsuits for refusing to provide the flowers for a same-sex wedding in violation of Washington law, but now she has filed a countersuit with support from the anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom. The suit claims that Stutzman is entitled to religious conscience protections that allow her to ignore nondiscrimination protections, as ADF attorney Dale Schowengerdt attempted to explain to WorldNetDaily:
“In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use its intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith convictions. Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs. It is this very freedom that gives America its cherished diversity and protects citizens from state-mandated conformity.”
ADF reports the Washington State Constitution uniquely protects the rights of conscience and religion, and the countersuit argues that Ferguson is “constitutionally precluded from compelling Stutzman to use her artistic skill to personally craft expressive floral arrangements” for a same-sex ceremony when it violates her religious beliefs and her conscience to do so, “particularly when there are many other florists willing, ready, and able to create floral arrangements” for such ceremonies.
Some lawmakers are trying to pass a law to justify discrimination in this way. When a staffer for one of those representatives was asked what a rural gay couple should do if all the local grocery stores refuse to serve them, he said “gay people can just grow their own food.” The fact that there may be other florists is irrelevant. Before the end of segregation, there may have been other lunch counters willing to serve African Americans, but that doesn’t mean the discrimination by some was not still a problem.
ADF isn’t wrong that the Washington Constitution refers to religious conscience protections, but Schowengerdt didn’t reference the entire provision:
Absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual, and no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.
In other words, the state’s conscience protections are not without limits — they don’t justify violating the law or discriminating against an entire segment of the population. Stutzman’s case has clearly become a cause célèbre for conservatives, but by doubling down on defending her with a countersuit, ADF is making it quite clear that their intentions have little to do with protecting religion and everything to do with justifying anti-gay discrimination. As recent marriage equality votes in state legislatures have demonstrated, ADF’s argument isn’t very convincing.