Religious FreedomPrint

A Tale of Two Businesses

by Julie Lynde, Family Policy Alliance of Idaho

Do we have an inalienable right to not be offended?

I have spent many years in Idaho working for First Amendment freedoms. A few years ago, while working to clarify Idaho’s religious freedom law (RFRA), the ACLU opposed our efforts. One of their arguments was that Christian business owners could use RFRA to “deny service at the lunch counter” to anyone for any reason.

I couldn’t help but question why they would even think that was an honest argument or an accurate picture of the free exercise of religion.

A situation in Washington state solved that riddle. It’s because that’s what some on the Left would do to anyone who doesn’t bow to the cultural orthodoxy.

Bedlam Coffee 

On October 1, a Seattle coffee shop owner, Ben Borgman, confronted a group of customers, cursed and yelled at them and forced them to leave. His tirade against a group described as peaceful Christian abolitionists was riddled with f-bombs. He screeched, “Shut up! Shut up!”, said he was a gay man, and accused the group of intolerance, as he used explicit and blasphemous language to frame his views. The conversation went downhill fast while the group gathered their things and left.

Wow! What did the customers do to incur such wrath? Did they march into his store, berate him and make demands that he and his employees adopt their beliefs? No. They earlier stood on a public sidewalk and distributed pro-life pamphlets and literature that explained the Old Testament meaning of the rainbow. In fact, Ben had to go outside to get a copy of the flyer he found so offensive.

In a nutshell, the transgression of his customers was that they offended Ben Borgman.

Arlene’s Flowers

This brings to mind another Washington state store owner; Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers. This Christian grandmother is a gifted florist who uses her artistic abilities to create arrangements.

She had no problem employing gay people and enjoyed selling flowers to her good friend Rob. When Rob asked Barronelle to create the floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding in 2013, she hugged him and said that she simply could not use her creative expression to decorate the same-sex ceremony. She explained that to do so would violate her relationship with Jesus. Rob felt offended.

The ACLU and Washington Attorney General sued. They claimed she unlawfully discriminated against Rob when she acted consistent with her faith in declining to use her creative skills to celebrate her friend’s same-sex wedding.

Barronelle was inundated with hate mail, profane phone calls, negative media, and yes, threats to her safety.

Under state law, Barronelle stands to lose everything… her home, savings and business. Everything. In February , the Washington Supreme Court concluded the government CAN force her and others to use their artistic expression to participate in events with which they disagree.

What about the coffee guy? Mr. Borgman was hailed as “heroic” in Out Magazine. So far, he is not threatened with litigation, and there are no reports hate mail, etc. I pray he does not suffer anything close to the bullying and abuse that has been inflicted on Barronelle. Responding in the same way the Left attacked Barronelle is not biblical and does not reflect the heart of Jesus.

A Tale of Two Businesses

It is easy to miss the distinction between these two circumstances.

On one hand, are business owners who choose to exclude an entire class of people simply because of their religious beliefs. On the other are business owners who serve everyone but decline to create custom art that celebrates a specific event.

It is the difference between “We don’t serve your kind” while viciously herding your customers out the door versus respectfully declining requests to CREATE art that would celebrate an event in conflict with deeply held convictions.

What is happening to religious people in many states is because their legislators “Added the Words” to their laws that put Christians at risk.

We know these laws are in conflict with religious freedom and it does not stop at the doors of business. It permeates the classroom, threatens the church, and in some places, has encroached into the family home.

The Founders were keenly aware what happens when government – or anyone who would use government as a weapon – oppresses people of faith. That’s why the very first freedom in the bill of rights is the “free exercise of religion.” That’s our heritage, and now it’s our time to tend to the beacon of religious liberty.