UVA Prof: ‘Helping to Make a Religiously Prohibited Wedding the Best…Is To Assist a Sacrilege’

Barbara Hollingsworth | March 9, 2016 | 10:47am EST
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University of Virginia Law Professor Douglas Laycock. (UVA)

(CNSNews.com) –  A University of Virginia law professor who supports same-sex marriage says that for those who believe weddings are “an inherently religious ceremony… helping to make a religiously prohibited wedding the best and most memorable it can be is to assist a sacrilege.”

Prof. Douglas Laycock, who helped draft the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, told CNSNews.com that the Barronelle Stutzman case is about “the religious context” of a wedding, not whether merchants can discriminate against gay couples.

On Feb. 18, 2015 Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom ruled that Stutzman, the 70-year-old owner of Arlene’s Flowers, violated Washington State’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws by refusing to provide floral services for longtime customer Robert Ingersoll’s same-sex wedding because of her religious beliefs.

“Stutzman cannot comply with both the law and her faith if she continues to provide flowers for weddings as part of her duly-licensed business,” Ekstrom wrote.

But Laycock pointed out that a wedding is “an inherently religious ceremony”.

“[Stutzman’s] lawyers need to do a much better job than they have of explaining that for her, a marriage is an inherently religious relationship, and a wedding is an inherently religious ceremony. And therefore, helping to make a religiously prohibited wedding the best and most memorable it can be is to assist a sacrilege,” Laycock told CNSNews.com.

On March 3, the Washington State Supreme Court agreed to hear Stutzman’s appeal.

Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, WA. (Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom)

“Barronelle and many others like her around the country have been willing to serve any and all customers, but they are understandably not willing to promote any and all messages,” Kristen Waggoner, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom who is representing Stutzman, said in a statement

“We hope the Washington Supreme Court will affirm the broad protections that both the U.S. Constitution and the Washington Constitution afford to freedom of speech and conscience.”

“The Washington Supreme Court has held that its state constitution protects religious practices from neutral and generally applicable laws, except where necessary to achieve compelling state goals," Laycock told CNSNews.com. "This is different from, and more protective than, the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation [of] the federal constitution.

“This case will be an important test of how serious the Washington Supreme Court is about its interpretation. And because it is a state-law question, there will be no appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Enforcing laws against discrimination is generally a compelling state goal. The question here is whether it is equally compelling in a religious context – a wedding – and where other merchants are readily available to provide the needed goods and services,” he continued.

“This is why she happily arranged and sold one of the plaintiffs flowers for years, knowing they were for his same-sex partner. Ordinary sales didn’t trouble her conscience. This case is about the religious context of the wedding, and the question is whether the state has a compelling interest in forcing merchants to assist with religious ceremonies that violate their religious commitments.

“If the court treats the case as though it were about a general right to discriminate against gays on religious grounds, Stutzman will lose. And that is exactly how the plaintiffs and their allies will attempt to portray it,” Laycock said.

Other religious rights experts pointed out that the Stutzman case and others like it nationwide will determine whether anti-discrimination laws trump the First Amendment right to freely practice one’s religion.

“It’s illegal and unconstitutional under the free speech clause of the First Amendment to compel someone to speak a message they don’t want to speak,” Travis Weber, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council (FRC), told CNSNews.com.  

“And the government in this case is trying to do that by forcing her to use her creative abilities to support a same-sex wedding ceremony.”

“Barronelle Stutzman represents the collision between religious freedom and the LGBT agenda which has no tolerance for people of faith. The statement from the lower court judge that Barronelle must chose between her faith and the law undermines the history and constitutional protections for religious freedom in America,” Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, told CNSNews.com.

Ken Klukowski, senior counsel for First Liberty. (First Liberty)

"The First Amendment protects all Americans from having to choose between making a living and living out their faith,” agreed Ken Klukowski, senior counsel for First Liberty, a non-profit law firm “dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty for all Americans”.

“We certainly believe that a Christian businessperson, as prescribed by law, should be willing to sell items to all customers. But there is a vast difference between that and being forced to participate in a wedding ceremony that represents values that are contrary to the Christian faith,” Ed Vitagliano, executive vice president of the American Family Association, told CNSNews.com.

“That hits at the heart of religious expression and free speech. We certainly hope that the Washington State Supreme Court finally gets this right.”

"People flock to America for religious freedom. In this country we respect every single person's right to their own faith. It is unconstitutional for the court to continue slapping people down who are living out their faith in the workplace,” Janice Shaw Crouse, chairwoman of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told CNSNews.com.

“There are plenty of bakers, florists and other service providers. It is wrong to insist that a specific provider violate their religious faith," Crouse pointed out.

Janice Shaw Crouse.

“Washington State is blessed to have citizens with courage and integrity such as Baronnelle Stutzman. Instead of punishing her for living up to her convictions, the state should recognize that its compelling interest is to protect her freedom, and that of every other citizen." the National Association of Evangelicals said in a statement to CNSNews.com.

"Where disputes arise about conflicting civil rights, the state should promote common sense accommodations,” 

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