Acton Institute Powerblog

Family Farmers Fined for Following Their Conscience

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140819_BarnWedding (1)First it was bakers, florists, and photographers. Now you can add farmers to the list of occupations that people are compelled by law to serve ends they deem unethical and in violation of their consciences. New York State has fined Cynthia and Robert Gifford $13,000 for acting on their belief that marriage is the union of a man and woman and thus declining to rent out their family farm for a same-sex wedding celebration.

As Leslie Ford and Ryan Anderson explain,

Unfortunately, New York’s Human Right’s law (Executive Law, art. 15) creates special privileges based on sexual orientation that trump the rights of business owners. Because the Giffords’ family farm is open to the public for business, New York classifies it as a “public accommodation” and then mandates that it not “discriminate” on the basis of sexual orientation.

Of course the Giffords were not engaging in any insidious discrimination—they were acting on their belief about the nature of marriage. They do not object to gay or lesbian customers attending the fall festivals, or going berry picking, or doing any of the other activities that the farm facilitates. The Giffords’ only objection is to being forced to abide by the government’s views on sexuality and host a same-sex wedding. The Human Rights Commission has now declared this historic belief about marriage to be “discrimination.”

The Giffords must pay a $1,500 mental anguish fine to each of the women and pay $10,000 in civil damages penalty to New York State. If they can’t pay in 60 days, a nine percent interest rate will be added to that total. Like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Giffords must also institute anti-discriminationre-education classes and procedures for their staff.

What does it say about a government that believes not getting your choice of wedding causes “mental anguish” but following your religious beliefs is a finable offense?

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • JRDF

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
    assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    (One value that both clauses of the religion section serve is to enforce governmental neutrality in deciding controversies arising out of religious disputes.
    Shall government force a black farmer that rents his farm for celebrations; be forced to provide his farm for a KKK rally?

    What part of private property do you not understand? What part of government tyranny do you not understand? What part of self-determination do you not understand? One’s conscience is one’s most fundamental and foundational element of their liberty. Without freedom of conscience; there is no liberty.


    “The foundation of classical liberalism, and of the American order, is not the rule of law, a written constitution, freedom of speech and worship, one-man/one-vote democracy, or the Christian moral
    tradition _ necessary as those things are. The irreplaceable basis for a prosperous, decent, liberal, stable society is property.
    Forget Thomas Jefferson’s epicurean flourish _ John Locke and the First Continental Congress had it right on the first go-round: ‘Life, liberty, and property.’ Despite the presence of the serial commas
    in that formulation, these are not really three different things: Perhaps we should render the concept ‘lifelibertyproperty’ the way the physicists write about ‘spacetime.’

    “But we do not have any property.

    “The governments of these United States, from the federal to the local level, have managed to insinuate themselves between citizens and their property at every point of significance. In that, our
    governments are very much like most other governments, liberal and illiberal, democratic and undemocratic. We have allowed ourselves to be in effect converted from a nation of owners to a nation of renters. But while medieval serfs had only the one landlord, we have a rogue’s
    gallery of them: the local school board, the criminals at the IRS, the vehicle-registry office, etc. Never-ending property taxes ensure that as a matter of economic function, you never really own your house _you rent it from the government. Vehicle registration fees and, in some jurisdiction, outright taxes on automobile ownership ensure in precisely the same way that you never really own your car: You rent it from the government. Stock portfolio? Held at the sufferance of politicians. A profitable business? You’ll keep what income they decide you can keep.”
    _Kevin D. Williamson on “Who? Whom?” in America

    Instead of going to another store or business, we can now sue a store or business for simply not carrying the widget that we want.

    In short, the lesbian couple could have gone to another farm that was gay friendly (you know the free-market); instead they searched out a christian owned farm to intentionally bully and use the tyranny of government to punish someone for not believing as they do. Welcome Brown shirts!!! Instead of painting Stars of David on businesses, the liberal-tyrants intend to totally destroy Christian businesses. It’s not about marriage; it is about tyranny.

    • Me

      Good. Religions SHOULD be destroyed.

      • I believe ISIS is working on that.

      • Marc Vander Maas

        And so we see the intolerance of “tolerance.”

        • Me

          HAHAHAHA You assume that I need or want your “tolerance”. You’re wrong. I don’t.

          • Marc Vander Maas

            I wasn’t talking about my tolerance for you. I was talking about your tolerance for those who disagree with you. Of which you have none.

      • Jeff Jankowiak

        Please don’t say this. Our country was founded on freedom of religious beliefs. What it was not founded upon is evangelizing your faith on me. Unfortunately, many people have never read our Constitution or Bill of Rights because their were either sleeping during their Civics 101 classes or never really bothered to show up at all. And unfortunately, they have relied on some fire and brimstone preacher to tell them what the documents say. (He really didn’t show up for classes either but he is trying to convince you he did) I wonder if that is a lie and a sin…hmmmmm

  • JPeron

    The problem I have is that right-wing Christians want to have their cake and eat it too. None of them are lobbying to abolish anti-discrimination laws that forbid discrimination on account of religion. In fact, their groups are often bringing anti-discrimination cases claiming religious discrimination. They want the “protections” of these laws for themselves, while having the right to discriminate against others. In other words, they are seeking special privileges that apply to them alone.

    So, either they lobby to abolish the laws entirely, or they accept they will apply to all across the board. Far more people claim they were discriminated against on religious grounds than on sexual orientation grounds. So, if these laws are bad, then religious people are more responsible for these sorts of cases than are members of the LGBT community. Of course, selective reporting by conservatives gives a different perception, just not an accurate one. I prefer the libertarian solution of abolishing the laws, including the legalizing of discrimination on the grounds of religion. But, I don’t expect hypocritical conservatives to join that effort.

  • This is less of a freedom of religion issue as a property issue. Christians didn’t care when the state diminished property through millions of pages of new regulations and exorbitant taxes. Now that the state has almost total control over property, and therefore private property no longer exists, Christians get concerned. Sorry! It’s too late!

  • JRDF

    You argument is a “strawman” there are plenty of gay-friendly businesses that will always be around to serve the gay community. If these are bad business owners then the free-market will force them out of business & gay friendly businesses will take their place. Instead you insist upon imposing your religious moral beliefs on others (ex. these christian farmers) through the coercive, tyrannical nature of government, in explicit opposition to the 1st amendment.

    • Jeff Jankowiak

      You mean like their was a lot of lunch counters blacks could patronize? Do you even listen to yourself? No one is imposing any moral beliefs on anyone. The farmers do not have to attend the ritual and the couple was not demanding them to participate. The farm was turned into a business and with that comes regulations and responsibilities. So stop trying to turn these bad business people into martyrs. Because they are not.

  • JRDF

    Nope you have it wrong. If you actually read the marriage amendments one would learn that nobody is going to require any religious institutions to marry anyone
    they don’t want to marry nor prevent them from marrying anyone they do
    want to marry, even if the marriage has no legal effect. The amendments only delineate what the state recognizes as marriage. So you see, we did think about your rights to marry gays & lesbians.

    You obviously are a creationist. For only a creationist would not understand that the “harshest” critic of homosexual relationships is not religion but evolution. It is evolution that has deemed the homosexual phenotype to be not equal to the heterosexual phenotype. Or using evolutionary terms — the homosexual trait is an unfit phenotype / genotype. (In layman’s terms homosexual relations are not equal to heterosexual relations thus the equality argument is fallacious.)

    And actually, it is the reponsibility of society to ensure it’s own preservation into the future, that is why society has a duty to place the heterosexual union above all other unions. The math of evolutionary / biological life (for humans, higher animals & plants) is 1 + 1 = 3 (or more).

    As your other post about tomato growers reveals, you are not a proponent of limited government, you insist that government impose YOUR believes, morals on others.
    But for us that know limited government provides the most freedom possible, must ask 2 basic questions: 1. What interest does government have in the homosexual act? NONE! 2. What interest does government have in the heterosexual act? Most fundamentally the preservation / propagation of society. (A simple way to understand this is in an old joke – if you and X were the last humans on earth and it was up to you to re-start the human race who would you want X to be???)

    • Jeff Jankowiak

      No…You have it wrong. The farmers are not marrying anyone. They are providing a service to provide a wedding venue and catering. The couple has their own religious leader to conduct the ceremony.
      As for your foolish analogy of being a creationist. I just love when people like you continue to type. You prove exactly what kind of person you really are. I think Judge Kennedy put it perfectly with the word “animus’. And I am not worrying about the continuation of the human race. We are 7.1 billion and counting. And only 25% have access to clean water and 50% of us go to bed hungry.
      For your own sake, I urge you to please stop this nonsense. Because each time you type another word you only look more and more foolish.

      • JRDF

        “And I am not worrying about the continuation of the human race”
        ‘nough said.

  • Jeff Jankowiak

    My use of the term “bad” comes from the fact these people broke public accommodation laws. I would call them “bad” if they broke the law by not collecting taxes, or not following health codes.
    And lets get this straight. I have a lot of laws I have to follow when I run my business. Requirements to have a license, required to collect taxes etc. To not follow the rules will only lead to anarchy. So if I have to follow the rules so do others.
    Lets just get to the real issue. You do not like gays and lesbians and you have been taught that it is ok to use your faith as a weapon against them. I am not blaming you. It has been that way for a long time, starting when they use to burn them at the stake. Well I am asking you to stop. I am NOT asking you to stop believing as you do. But I am asking you to stop using your beliefs as a weapon.

  • JRDF

    Jeff Jankowiak wrote: “You mean like there was a lot of lunch counters blacks could patronize?”

    Once again, like saying homosexuality and heterosexuality are equal; Jankowiak is comparing rocks & rabbits.
    A black person is defined by their person-hood; while a homosexual (or heterosexual) is defined by their (sexual) behavior. So in other words, Jankowiak is telling the Black community that the personal dignity (person-hood) of a black person is merely equal to any behavior that a human may choose to engage, whether the behavior is productive or non-productive, just or criminal, moral or immoral, chaste or hedonistic, self-advancing or self-destructive, etc.

    But as we all know, the black community has already declared that this equivalency is absurd; that the personal choice to engage in homosexual behavior is NOT equivalent to a black person’s dignity (person-hood). The black community, after overwhelmingly voting for President Obama, consciously and with full intent “crossed-the-aisle” and overwhelmingly (70%) voted for Proposition 8.


    Jankowaik wrote: “The farm was turned into a business and with that comes regulations and responsibilities.” Ohhh… really? And what of the responsibilities of the business owners of the gay resorts, gay cruises, gay slamming clubs & circuit parties to the HIV-suffering gay community?

    Kaufman et al. 2009. On Holiday: A Risk Behavior Profile for Men Who Have Vacationed at Gay
    Resorts. Journal of Homosexuality. 56 (8) 1134- 1144.
    Abstract: Sexual risk behavior is higher when people vacation as compared to when they are at home. The current study uses survey data to compare sexual risk behavior of gay men who vacation at gay resorts to those who do not. Independent predictors of vacationing at gay resorts included income level, relationship status, ever having attended a circuit party, and HIV serostatus. For men who visit resorts to meet sex partners, independent predictors included relationship status, ever having attended a circuit party, HIV serostatus, number of male sex partners in the past six months, and number of anal insertive male partners using a condom. These results show a need for the development of structural interventions in the gay resort and hotel setting.


    Whittier, et al. 2005. Sexual Risk Behavior of Men Who have Sex with Men: Comparison of Behavior at Home and at a Gay Resort. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 34 (1): 95-102.

    Abstract: This study compared sexual behavior of gay and bisexual men (N = 551) while at their primary residence to their behavior while vacationing at a gay resort community. Participants reported behavior for the days they spent in the resort and for their last 60 days in their home residences. Overall, 11 times more non-main partners were reported for unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) per day while in the resort as for the “at home” period. Regression analysis identified negative attitudes toward condoms, less concern about AIDS, and daily number of non-main, male partners at home with whom UAI occurred as significant predictors of the daily number of non-main male partners with whom holidaymakers engaged in UAI while in the resort area. The results suggest that sexual risk taking by men who have sex with men (MSM) while on holiday may be elevated over that at home and that prevention efforts need to be promoted in gay resorts. Behavioral surveillance research would be helpful in better characterizing the current social contexts of sexual risk taking by MSM. Theory-based studies of the nature of risk-taking and sexual decision-making on “gay holiday” could inform the development of empirically proven and conceptually grounded interventions.”

    Isn’t it interesting that Radical Homosexuals say: It is none of society’s business what we do in our own bedroom — but whatever we are doing … we expect society (through the coercion of government) to promote / sanction / subsidize whatever we may be doing.

    Why is it fine for business owners of the gay resorts, gay cruises, gay slamming clubs & circuit parties to take no responsibility for the spread of HIV among the gay community? In other words, it must be fine for business owners of these businesses (as well as the porn industry) to make millions of dollars off peddling promiscuity (i.e. adultery), to the HIV / AIDS suffering gay community (and heterosexual community)! But a family farm that opposes a couples choice to engage in a historically proven lifestyle of promiscuity and adultery is condemned for loving the couple enough to oppose (and not be accomplices to) the couples choice to participate in a such a lifestyle.

    Back to the previous issue of homosexual behavior being equivalent to a black person’s self-dignity. One has to assume that Jankowiak considers a black person equivalent to the hedonistic behavior that occurs at gay resorts, holidays, cruises, circuit clubs and slamming parties.
    And that is a question for all … is the self-dignity of a black person equivalent to the hedonistic passions and base, instinctual sexual behavior of the animalistic human (homosexual or heterosexual)?
    Finally, Jankowiak utilizes the commonly futile tactic of calling names, that is: he calls me a homophobe / hater, and that I use my faith to attack homosexuals. As Margaret Thatcher once said: “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”

    When all is said and done, there is one thing that I (JRDF) am absolutely certain: — If, in the undeserved event, that I do make it to heaven, there will be a lot of homosexuals in front of me.