Tuesday, October 25, 2016

ADF tries to frame bigotry as merely a difference of opinion

Barronelle Stutzman - Arlene's Flowers
ADF client Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers and Gifts
James Gottry a lawyer at Alliance Defending Freedom wrote: “Civil Discourse, and Why My Friend Sent Me a 'Dear John'.” I will get to Ms. Stutzman. At first, however, this piece is about being unfriended on Facebook (oh, the horror).
I’m not angry at John, but I’m disappointed that our culture has embraced a mantra for interpersonal relationships that “you’re either with me, or you’re against me.” And I’m frustrated that my friend believes my organization is part of the problem, when Alliance Defending Freedom exists to protect freedom of conscience and belief, freedom that benefits all Americans.
ADF exists to advance Christian privilege. “Freedom” to ADF always seems to mean the freedom of Christians to discriminate against LGBT people regardless of local law. Gottry had a similar colloquy with me on Twitter referring to his gay friends. He may be a perfectly nice guy and he might really have gay friends but his association with Alliance Defending Freedom makes him complicit in anti-LGBT bigotry.

Enter Barronelle Stutzman:

I agree with Gottry's heading regarding diversity but it is followed by a large helping of intellectual dishonesty:
A diverse society protects diverse beliefs

ADF defends the legal rights of people to live and work peacefully according to their beliefs. People like Barronelle Stutzman, a 72-year-old grandmother and Washington floral artist. Barronelle served customer Robert Ingersoll for nearly a decade, providing flowers for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events. But when he asked her to design custom floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding, Barronelle knew she couldn’t.
First off, the Stutzman controversy has nothing to do with her beliefs. They have never been in peril. This is a simple case of refusing service. The fact that Stutzman is a senior citizen and a grandmother is irrelevant. ADF's clients are always “artists.” Their bakers are cake artists. It's BS that no court has accepted. Stutzman might be a perfectly splendid florist but her offerings are not legally art. At some point Washington's AG Bob Ferguson wrote something to the effect that a chef might provide works of art but that wouldn't exempt him from the health code. That Mr. Ingersoll was a long time customer is also irrelevant. I have a theory about what really happened here but first, Gottry quotes Stutzman from a 2015 piece in the Washington Post:
I felt terrible that I couldn’t share this day with him, as I’d shared so many with him before. I took his hands and said, “I’m sorry I can’t do your wedding because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.” Rob said he understood, and that he hoped his mom would walk him down the aisle, but he wasn’t sure. We talked about how he got engaged and why they decided to get married after all these years. He asked me for the names of other flower shops. I gave him the names of three floral artists that I knew would do a good job, because I knew he would want something very special. We hugged and he left.
The briefs tell a different story of an abrupt Stutzman who did not want to discuss the matter:
Ms. Stutzman refused to serve Mr. Ingersoll before he could tell her what sort of flowers he wanted, i.e., whether he intended to purchase unarranged flowers or whether he wanted floral arrangements. CP 426-29, 444-46. As Ms. Stutzman put it, “[w]e didn’t get into that.” CP 426-427. Mr. Ingersoll never asked Ms. Stutzman to attend the wedding. Id.
According to Stutzman she did not want to provide the flowers because that served as approval of same-sex marriage. She wished to withhold that approval. It should be patently obvious that being served should not depend upon the approval of the server. The fact that similar services are available elsewhere is also irrelevant. People should not have to shop around to find out who will agree to serve them. The piece in the Post might have actually been written (or at least edited) by ADF. Note that it refers to “floral artists.” Stuzman/ADF have lost this case at trial and on appeal. Oral arguments in further appeal before Washington's Supreme Court are scheduled for November 15.

My theory:

Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Washington State since December 6, 2012. This incident occurred on March 1, 2013. I suspect that, as states adopted marriage equality, ADF was trolling for “victims” among the state's wedding vendors. My guess is that Stutzman was contacted in person, through her pastor or by mail offering free legal services if she would would be a martyr for the faith. Until  she received those communications she might have had no objection at all. I think that she was anxiously waiting for the opportunity to be a Christian hero. Barronelle Stutzman is no hero. Her actions were those of a bigot. Religion does not exempt people from complying with applicable law.

Gottry tries to theme the controversy as a difference of opinion:
Barronelle loves Robert Ingersoll, but that does not mean she agrees with every decision he makes or endorses every opinion he holds. And a fair-minded society shouldn’t require her to, just as it shouldn’t force Robert Ingersoll to agree with Barronelle’s decisions or endorse her beliefs. A diverse society necessarily allows for diverse beliefs, and a free society vigorously protects the right of its citizens to act peacefully according to their beliefs.
Service is not an “endorsement” of anything other than the business transaction itself. This has nothing whatsoever to do with opinions or beliefs. This is a very simple case based upon two actions:
  1. Ingersoll asks for a wedding cake for his same-sex marriage.
  2. Stutzman refuses service citing her religious beliefs.
That's it. We are a diverse society. The very purpose of nondiscrimination laws is to take personal approval out of the transaction. Ingersoll and Stutzman are free to have a vigorous, spirited and hopefully civil debate over the nondiscrimination law. It is through debate that we air differences of opinion. However, regardless of any differences in opinion, the law requires Stutzman to serve Ingersoll. That requirement did not just materialize in a vacuum. It is law that was enacted by the people's elected representatives.
Unfortunately, Washington State, the ACLU, and even Robert Ingersoll disagree. They sued Barronelle and she now faces the loss of her business, savings, and home. Why? For having a different belief about marriage than Robert Ingersoll, and for seeking to peacefully live according to her conscience and consistently with her beliefs. Put more simply, for taking her friend’s hands in her own, looking him in the eye, and saying “I’m sorry I can’t do your wedding.”
Bullshit. At first the AG asked Stutzman to simply consent to serving all customers and there would have been no penalty. So far she has been ordered to pay $1,001. About all that living in peace that they always refer; what if she did not want to sell flowers that would end up at an interracial wedding or an interfaith Jewish-Christian wedding, all based of course on deeply held religious beliefs? Isn't that why nondiscrimination laws exist in the first place?

Mr. Gottry has an interesting point of view:
Forcing conformity in a diverse society doesn’t unite, it divides. And believing that you must separate yourself from – or punish – those who hold views different than your own only exacerbates the problem. You begin to see those “others” not as friends, neighbors, and colleagues who add something unique to the diverse fabric of our nation, but as faceless impediments to a never-never land where “everyone thinks like me (or they will when they grow up).”
This isn't about conformity. Nor is this about opinions or religious beliefs. People are free to believe anything that they want to believe. However, they are obligated to serve all comers in a public accommodation in Washington State regardless of those personal beliefs. In enacting these laws requiring service the state says that service is not an endorsement or approval of anything. It is just a business transaction. It means that I have to bake a “God Hates Fags” cake for Westboro Baptist Church. I might tell the cretins from WBC that I am donating the proceeds to the Human Rights Campaign but I have to bake the cake. I would have no problem doing so.

That is not even a fair comparison. Westboro Baptist Church acts to deny me equal protection and might even incite violence against me. WBC's actions affect me directly. In Stutzman's case she does not approve of same-sex marriage and will not service same-sex weddings. Serving her customer does not affect her in any way whatsoever. It simply substitute's the state's approval of a transaction for the personal approval of the seller. In effect it relieves the seller from moral responsibility.

Gottry concludes with:
The end result of this dangerous misunderstanding of tolerance is two individuals yelling at each other on national television, all the while telling us that they have what it takes to lead our nation. The worst part is, until we change our private interactions from disgraceful to respectful, we’re getting exactly what we deserve.
Nondiscrimination laws are neither dangerous nor a misunderstanding of anything. I agree with his closing sentence about respect. Stutzman should have been respectful of the gay couple even if she disapproves of their actions. She should have served them accordingly. There were no consequences to Stutzman for serving the couple. Consequences arose when she refused service.

ADF has been flying Ms. Stutzman to various state legislative hearings where she testifies in favor of license-to-discriminate laws. This is the return on ADF's investment.

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