Disgraced Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez recently made headlines with a hand-written apology addressed “(to) the (f)ans” over his drug violation suspension. Predictable debate followed the apology; some thought it sincere, while others suspected he was hoping for kinder fan treatment - especially if he failed to live up to his very sizeable contract. Whatever the case, A-Rod took “full responsibility” for his suspension from baseball for substance abuse, and hoped the apology would allow him to get on with playing baseball.
Apologies are a good thing, and if heartfelt they can get one back on track. But a Washington florist offered the chance for an apology and a minor fine to avoid the ongoing heat (and financial ruin), replied “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The offer of apology and settlement came from the Washington State Attorney General, who is prosecuting a kindly grandmother and florist, Barronelle Stutzman. The matter has already received much publicity. Stutzman, who has employed persons and served people regardless of sexual orientation, declined a same-sex wedding request from a long-time customer. She tearfully told the customer and friend her Christian faith would not allow her participation, gave the name of three florists who would serve, and concluded the conversation with a hug. That looked like the end of the matter until Attorney General Bob Ferguson learned about the encounter through social media. He promptly filed suit against her business and Stutzman personally, so all her assets – including her home – could be taken.
An interesting development followed. An offer of settlement, conveyed (oddly) in a press conference, dangled an easy way out. Just admit you were wrong, pay a small fine, and all this will go away. But the State of Washington did not foresee the resolve and courage of a grandmother who would not, and indeed could not, agree she had done wrong by following her religious convictions. Noting “this conflict is about freedom, not money,” Stutzman replied her faith and freedom were not for sale.
There‘s another point here that makes the story even more troubling. Let’s imagine that A-Rod declined to apologize, and instead defied the Yankees. Let’s further imagine he said: “I’ll never play for you again, and I despise this team.” Do you suppose the Yankees would gleefully wave his contract and say “We’ve got you! And you’ll play for us whether you want to or not.” Of course not. No team wants a player who does not wish to play for them. You can’t force someone to put their talents to their best use. In fact, Yankee Manager Joe Girardi said the focus must now be whether A-Rod can do his job. In other words, give your best and show results or you won’t play – no matter how much you’re paid.
Now, do we suppose customers would want to force an unwilling florist or photographer to use their talents? I doubt it. Just as with an athlete, there would be no way to know if the flowers looked this bad, or the lighting was wrong in photographs, because the artist had a bad day – or their heart was not in it. Furthermore, I would not want to give my hard-earned money to a person who disagreed with my request so vehemently that they declined a paying job.
I’m sure the State of Washington is well aware that people think and respond this way. So their insistence on prosecution means something more is in play. Even though there may be dozens of florists nearby who would be happy for the work, the State’s aim is to break people for defying government orthodoxy. In other words, the service is not the real issue; the goal is to force and if necessary punish people who think the wrong way. And if the State needs to take everything they own to make the point, they will do so.
All this is more remarkable because marriage redefinition was sold to the public as “tolerance.” In what can only be described as shocking intolerance, marriage redefinition immediately demanded that traditional religious views of literally centuries must be ground under the state’s heel. Let’s force the unwilling players to violate their conscience – but it’s okay because we’ll call it “tolerance.”
The State of Washington has learned the hard way that one grandmother and florist will not play ball. When the truth of what the new tolerance looks like in practice is revealed, I suspect the fans will stop buying tickets.