Acton Institute Powerblog

Florist Under Fire: ‘It’s About Freedom, Not Money’

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Christian florist Barronelle Stutzman was sued last year for refusing to sell flowers for the purpose of a same-sex wedding. Last week, a Benton County Superior Court Judge ruled against her, stating that her religious beliefs do not “excuse compliance with the law.” The 70-year-old grandmother now stands to lose everything: her business, her home, and her livelihood.

Next came a settlement offer from the attorney general of Washington, who proceeded to dangle dollars in an attempt to tease Stutzman into submission. The offer: Reject your religious beliefs and agree to accommodate such requests, and life can go on as before (after paying $2,000 in penalties, that is).

Stutzman promptly refused, and did so quite stridently via letter. Joe Carter has already pointed to that response, but given the key themes and tensions that continue to define these battles, the following paragraph by Stutzman bears repeating:

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. Washington’s constitution guarantees us “freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.” I cannot sell that precious freedom. You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.

Here we find a woman who conducts her business according to a particular set of ethics and religious beliefs, basing her creative service on something before and beyond the dollar. Stutzman is not driven by greed or materialism, for if she was, another wedding would be another wedding, and such fines and threats would be quite enough to crack any existing veneer. Whether you agree with her stance or not, she clearly strives to integrate her faith with her work, and views her service as moral, valuable, and worthwhile only insofar as it glorifies God.

And yet, rather than respecting this position and pursuing some sort of pluralistic peace and specialization, her opponents proceed to attack her faith, destroy her means of survival, and, at their most gracious moments, toss some money on the table. The irony abounds.

More than your run-of-the-mill ideological bullying, these are moves that aptly illustrate the underlying self-indulgent humanism that drives the opposition. Remember, these are folks who relish in ridiculing “the rich” who cling to their coin without empathy for others or regard for ethics and morality. Yet when confronted with someone such as Stutzman — an elderly florist who seeks to follow her conscience and elevate her “relationship with Jesus Christ” above her economic output — they respond with dollar signs and punitive penalties. For whatever reason, whether amid the cold coercion of Soviet Russia or the soft despotism of hedonistic Western democracies, battles over religious liberty have a funny way of illuminating the base impulses behind progressive ideals.

As I’ve noted before under similar circumstances, if the great secret of free enterprise is its power to leverage and channel the human spirit toward more transcendent ends—enabling a florist to start a business and operate it according to her religious beliefs—the great irony of progressivism is its propensity to reject such ends and take on the image of its own materialistic critiques.

We should pause and pray that Stutzman somehow finds relief. But as we join alongside her in the fight to preserve such freedoms, let us be attentive that our own priorities and allegiances are the right place, remembering that the integration of faith and work from the bottom up is far easier when the bullying ceases from the top down.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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