BLOGThis Proposed State Law Would Threaten the Constitutional Rights of Christian Business Owners

By Sarah Kramer Posted on: | June 28, 2018

If you’re looking for proof that the religious freedom of Christian business owners will continue to come under attack – even with positive Supreme Court rulings in Hobby Lobby and, more recently, Masterpiece Cakeshop – you need look no further than Massachusetts.

This week, the Massachusetts state legislature held a hearing on House Bill 767, which threatens the constitutional rights of Christian business owners.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael Day, claims that this bill is needed in light of the Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. On June 4, the Court released its decision, which affirmed that the government cannot treat religious beliefs about marriage with hostility.

And there was certainly an abundance of government hostility toward Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Alliance Defending Freedom client at the center of the case.

When two men walked into Jack’s shop in 2012 and asked him to design a custom cake celebrating their same-sex wedding, Jack politely declined because of his religious beliefs about marriage. But he quickly offered to sell the couple anything else in his shop or to design them a cake for a different event. That’s because Jack serves all people, but he cannot celebrate events and express messages in violation of his faith.

Still, he was sued. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that if he designs cakes for weddings between a man and a woman, he must do so for same-sex weddings – or stop designing wedding cakes altogether, which cost Jack 40 percent of his business and over half of his staff. The Commission also ordered Jack to “reeducate” his staff and file a quarterly report with the government listing what custom cake designs he declines to make.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court made it clear that government hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society. Perhaps Massachusetts should take note.

This Massachusetts bill enshrines religious hostility into the law, making it illegal for small business owners like Jack to even assert his religious beliefs as a defense in a lawsuit. In other words, Massachusetts not only wants Jack to lose, but wants to deny him from even getting his day in court. And if he attempted to assert his freedom to operate his shop consistent with this faith, H. 767 would make himboth professionally and personally liable.

Floral artist Barronelle Stutzman knows what is like to face such professional and personal liability for living out her faith. The attorney general of Washington state went after her simply because she could not design custom floral arrangements for the same-sex wedding of her longtime customer and friend Rob Ingersoll. It didn’t matter that Barronelle had served Rob for nearly ten years, for all sorts of occasions. It didn’t matter that she referred him to three other floral artists that she knew would do a good job. And it didn’t matter that after Barronelle gently explained her religious beliefs to Rob, he said he understood, they hugged, and he left.

Because the Washington attorney general and ACLU decided to make an example of Barronelle, she stands to lose everything. Yes, should could lose Arlene’s Flowers, the business that her mother started – but she could also lose her home, her retirement savings, and everything she and her husband have set aside for their children and grandchildren.

If that’s not government hostility, I don’t know what is. Yet Massachusetts wants to enshrine such hostility as the law of the land.

Countless people of good will believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. They should not be banished from the marketplace for peacefully living out those beliefs, and they should certainly not be denied the ability to defend themselves in court.

But this Massachusetts law is proof that opponents of religious freedom will not rest – which is why we can’t either.

We at ADF are working with our allies in Massachusetts, including the Massachusetts Family Institute, to help educate people about the dangers of legislation like this and the impact it would have on countless people in the state.

ADF also continues to fight for the right of all people to live and work according to their faith without fear of government punishment. Barronelle’s case is still ongoing after the Supreme Court ordered the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider her case in light of Masterpiece. We are defending other creative professionals across the country who have been told they must celebrate events and express messages against their faith, as well as a family in Michigan that was kicked out of the local farmer’s market for explaining its religious beliefs about marriage on Facebook.

God has blessed us with nine Supreme Court victories in the past seven years. But the challenges to religious freedom will not stop. By God’s grace, and with your support and prayers, we will continue to defend religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family at the highest levels – representing our clients free of charge.

After all, when the rights of our clients are preserved, that’s a win for us all.

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Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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