February 4, 2021

The “Equality Act” Would Mean More Cases Like These

By
Sarah Kramer

The cake artist, the floral artist, and the T-shirt printer.

If you’ve followed the work of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) over the years, you’ve likely heard the stories of Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, and Blaine Adamson. You’ve watched the ups and downs of these cases—from death threats to victory at the U.S. Supreme Court. And you’ve stood by them as their governments targeted them for simply operating their businesses consistently with their faith.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve prayed and hoped that each of these clients would win their cases, return to their normal lives, and that no one else would have to face what they have.

But if a bill called the “Equality Act” is passed, we could be hearing a lot more of these stories in the coming years.

President Joe Biden has promised to push for the passage of the so-called “Equality Act” during the first 100 days of his term. And with a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, the passage of such legislation is more likely than ever before.

The essence of the “Equality Act” is its addition of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes to existing federal nondiscrimination laws. While this might sound nice to some, this legislation is deceptively named. The “Equality Act” actually poses a devastating and unprecedented threat to the religious freedom of business owners and creative professionals nationwide.

Blaine, Jack, and Barronelle are proof of that.

Jack Phillips

When two men walked into Masterpiece Cakeshop and requested a custom cake celebrating their same-sex wedding, Jack politely declined. He explained that while he would be happy to sell them anything else in his shop, he could not create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. Jack loves and serves people from all backgrounds, but he cannot use his artistic talents to celebrate events or express messages against his faith.

Jack could never have imagined that remaining true to his religious beliefs would result in death threats, a six-year legal battle, the loss of a significant part of his business and half of his employees, and the repression of his artistic and religious freedom.

But that’s exactly what happened. After the couple left Jack’s shop, they filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. And the commission found that

Jack had violated the state’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) law, which is similar to the “Equality Act.”

ADF represented Jack in this lawsuit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the government acted with impermissible hostility toward Jack’s religious beliefs.

Barronelle Stutzman

Barronelle had served her longtime customer and friend Rob Ingersoll for nearly 10 years when he came into her shop and asked her to design custom floral arrangements for his same-sex wedding.

Barronelle loved creating unique floral arrangements for the special occasions in Rob’s life, but she knew this was one event that she could not celebrate. Barronelle gently explained to Rob that she couldn’t use her artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex wedding because of her faith. Rob said he understood, they hugged, and he left the shop.

But not long after, the Washington state attorney general heard about this interaction through news reports generated by a social media post. And he decided to make an example of Barronelle using the state’s SOGI law. Later, the ACLU also sued Barronelle on behalf of Rob and his partner. These lawsuits threaten Barronelle not only professionally, but also personally. If she loses her case, she could lose nearly everything she owns.

Barronelle’s case is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court after the Washington Supreme Court ruled against her twice.

Blaine Adamson

In 2012 Blaine Adamson politely declined to print T-shirts promoting the Gay and Lesbian Service Organization’s (GLSO) pride festival and offered to refer the GLSO to another printer. Blaine has declined many T-shirt requests in the past, including requests for apparel promoting violence, drug use, and a local strip club. Still, Blaine offers to connect those customers to a different printer that will create the requested shirts. That’s exactly what he did when he received the call from the GLSO.

While Blaine serves all people, he cannot print every message that is asked of him.

But that wasn’t enough for the GLSO. The organization filed a complaint against Blaine with a local government agency – which found that Blaine had violated a local SOGI ordinance. In addition to the lawsuit, Blaine has endured a boycott, hateful emails, phone calls, and Facebook comments, public criticism from his mayor, and the loss of business from large customers.

Blaine was involved in this lawsuit for seven years. But, in October 2019, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in his favor, affirming that the GLSO didn’t have a legal right to sue Blaine for declining to print a message that violates his religious beliefs.

Laws similar to the “Equality Act” have been used to target Jack, Barronelle, Blaine, and more at the local and state level. If the “Equality Act” is passed, it would become the law of the land, threatening all creative professionals and business owners who wish to live and work consistently with their faith.

We can’t allow the government to have that kind of power. Otherwise, it could target any business owner whose beliefs aren’t in line with its favored point of view. And that should concern us all.

The bottom line is that our laws must respect freedom and promote justice for every citizen, no matter who they are. But that is not what the “Equality Act” does. Instead, it threatens Americans’ fundamental liberties. And that is something no American should stand for.

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