Court decisions like that against Barronelle Stutzman are making America more and more like the tyrannical governments of Europe that millions of early colonists fled in order to be free from the government persecution of their inalienable rights of religious conscience.
Here’s a simple question: “What is America’s first-protected, most-important, and longest-cherished politically-protected right?” The answer? The rights of religious conscience. But the Supreme Court of Washington State just became another in the line of recent courts who know nothing of or don’t care about this inalienable right.
The early colonists arriving in America came largely seeking this right. In Europe, the governments consistently told them how to practice their faith, and punished them if they did not do what the government wanted; but the religious-minded colonists believed that no one but God could tell them how to practice their faith.
The Pilgrims journeyed to America in 1620 to escape the hounding government persecution in England, as did 20,000 Puritans in the 1630s. In 1632, government-persecuted Catholics fled to America; in 1654, persecuted Jews from Portugal; in 1680, persecuted Quakers arrived here, as did persecuted Anabaptists from Germany in 1683, 400,000 persecuted Protestants from France in 1685; and so forth. These settlers, having been punished for exercising their rights of religious conscience, promptly enshrined these rights in their own governing documents, including Rhode Island in 1640, Maryland in 1649, Jersey in 1664, Carolina in 1665, Pennsylvania in 1682, and so forth. As John Quincy Adams affirmed, “The transcendent and overruling principle of the first settlers of New England was conscience.”
In 1776 when America separated from Great Britain, the rights of religious conscience were once again promptly preserved in the new state constitutions and then in the federal Constitution. According to the Founding Fathers, this was one of the most important rights they protected:
- “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience.” “[O]ur rulers can have no authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted.” “It is inconsistent with the spirit of our laws and Constitution to force tender consciences.” (Thomas Jefferson)
- “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort …. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” (James Madison, Signer of the Constitution)
- “The rights of conscience and private judgment … are by nature subject to no control but that of Deity, and in that free situation they are now left.” (John Jay, an Author of the “Federalist Papers” and original Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court)
- “Consciences of men are not the objects of human legislation.” “The state [does not] have any concern in the matter. For in what manner doth it affect society … in what outward form we think it best to pay our adoration to God?” (William Livingston, signer of the U. S. Constitution)
Based on this long tradition, today …
- Conscientious objectors are not forced to fight in wars
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are not required to say the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools
- The Amish are not required to complete the standard 12 years of education
- Christian Scientists are not forced to have their children vaccinated or undergo medical procedures often required by state laws
- Seventh-Day Adventists cannot be penalized for refusing to work on Saturday
And there are many additional examples.
It was because the rights of religious conscience were so important that they were specifically protected in the constitutions of the individual states – such as that of Washington, which declares:
- Absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief, and worship shall be guaranteed to every individual; and no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion …
But despite the clarity of this clause, we now get word that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that Barronelle Stutzman, a devout and pious Christian florist …
… was bound by state law to use her artistic talents to design floral arrangements to celebrate what she viewed as an immoral event: a gay wedding. The pretext for overriding the florist’s rights to free speech and religious liberty was Washington’s so-called “public accommodations law,” which required the owner, Barronelle Stutzman, to provide goods and services to customers “regardless” of their sexual orientation.
Several things are wrong with this decision.
- First, Barronelle has been economically fined and governmentally coerced to use her talents and skills in a way that violates her sincerely held religious beliefs.
- Second, the explicit wording of the Washington State constitution has been completely ignored by the Washington State Supreme Court. In essence, a Washington state court has deemed the Washington state constitution to be unconstitutional, just because they don’t want to uphold its provisions.
- Third, the court elevated a state law (their “public accommodations law”) above the state constitution; but constitutions always trump statutory laws – always.
- Fourth, John Adams described us as “a government of laws and not of men,” but decisions like this make us just the opposite: the personal predilections of judges are now routinely placed above constitutional provisions duly enacted by the people.
Two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson rejoiced that “the comparisons of our government with those of Europe are like a comparison of heaven and hell,” but this happy distinction is now disappearing. Because of this ruling (and dozens more like it in recent years), America is becoming more and more like the tyrannical governments of Europe that millions of early colonists fled in order to be free from the government persecution of their inalienable rights of religious conscience.
David Barton is the founder and president of WallBuilders.
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