Jeffrey R Holland proclaimed: “I want you to be proud you are a woman. I want you to feel the reality of what that means, to know who you truly are. You are literally a spirit daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. That surpassing truth should be fixed deep in your soul and be fundamental to every decision you make.”
One Christian woman, not of our faith, has made her understanding of heavenly truth “fundamental to every decision.”
Two years ago, Barronelle Stutzman, the sole owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington denied a request to use her artistic talents to solemnize a same sex marriage. Over the years, Stutzman had employed and served members of the homosexual community, but she felt like being a fundamental part of a gay wedding went against her religious, biblical, and Christian beliefs and could not in good conscience be a part of it. She referred the customers to another florist.
At that time, Ms. Stutzman, probably believed that she had the right to live and work according to her religious conscience. After all the first amendment of the United States Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and Article 1, Section 11 of the Washington State Constitution protects “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief, and worship” and guarantees that “no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion.” Despite these two important documents, Washington State law makers wrote an anti-discrimination law saying that members of the LGBT community have “the right to the full enjoyment of any of the accommodations,” and “the right to engage in commerce free from any discriminatory boycotts or blacklists.”
Washington State Attorney General, Bob Ferguson heard that Barronelle Stutzman denied her services, and along with the gay couple and the ACLU, filed a lawsuit against Stutzman personally and against her business. Recently, a state judge ruled in favor of Washington’s anti-discrimination law and against The United States and Washington State Constitutions. The judge ruled that because Stutzman referred the couple to another florist she must now pay damages and attorneys’ fees not only from her business, but from all of her personal assets. This may be more than $200,000.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” Yet in this case and many more similar cases, things are not so cut and dry. We have two laws; one that says we may live and work according to our consciences, specifically addressing religion, the other says that no one for any reason may deny service to members of the LGBT community.
For millennia, this would not have been an issue. Marriage has been the union of a man and a woman. Most religions world wide support that divine counsel. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that, “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God,” and that, “God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.” It’s not unreasonable to think that a Mormon florist, photographer, and baker would feel like it goes against their religious conscience to use their artistic talents to solemnize a same sex marriage.
In cases like these, we, as members of the Church, ought to look to the scriptures and the modern day prophets as our guide.
“2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.
4 We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.”
In a recent news conference, and again to clarify on Trib Talk, Elder Oaks and Elder Christofferson clarified the Church’s stance on religious freedom verus anti-discrimination. They stated that they believe it is possible to be fair to all. They stated that members of the LGBT community needed legal protection for housing and employment, while at the same time stating that religious people and entities needed legal protections too. Elder Oaks noted that:
“When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser. Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.”
After the ruling, in a news release, Attorney General Ferguson, offered to drop his lawsuit if Ms. Stutzman would pay $2,001 and agree to give up her religious freedom. She refused his offering, writing that:
“I never imagined that using my God-given talents and abilities, and doing what I love to do for over three decades, would become illegal. Our state would be a better place if we respected each other’s differences, and our leaders protected the freedom to have those differences. Since 2012, same-sex couples all over the state have been free to act on their beliefs about marriage, but because I follow the Bible’s teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, I am no longer free to act on my beliefs.
“Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about…It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important…. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets….”
Baronelle Stutzmen is a precious daughter of God. Her Christian faith has helped her to understand that, and “truth” has been “fixed deep” into her soul and has become “fundamental to every decision” she makes. She is an honorable Christian, standing up like Stephen of old, for her right to believe and worship the Savior, Jesus Christ.
We too can stand for our rights to worship “according to the dictates” of our own conscience, while living a life of compassion and being fair to all.
See the Mormon Newsroom article for more information about religious freedom.
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