12 Recent Cases Where Christians Were Punished for Their Beliefs on Marriage: FRC

Aaron Klein talked before those gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel about the fallout from he and his wife's refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake.
Aaron Klein talked before those gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel about the fallout from he and his wife's refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake. | (Photo: Family Research Council/Carrie Russell)

The Family Research Council has compiled a reporting listing 12 cases this past decade in America where Christian business owners have been punished or threatened with punishment for holding traditional beliefs about marriage in order to comply with anti-discrimination laws regarding gay people.

"People of faith have increasingly found themselves being sued (along with receiving censure and hostility) when they refuse to engage in work-related activities that violate their religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality," wrote Travis Weber, director of the Center For Religious Liberty, and author of the "Religious Liberty and the 'Wedding Vendor' Cases" report.

"This scenario has played out most prominently in the wedding industry, where small business owners are being forced to make the choice between violating their faith and freely running their business," he added.

Parts of the report were written by Alliance Defending Freedom. 

Weber suggested that public accommodation laws were once part of a "noble" effort to combat state-sponsored racial discrimination, but have since been expanded to compel equal treatment of different types of sexual conduct.

"Though religious freedom can be minimized and curtailed by any number of alleged governmental justifications or rationales, many of the threats to religious freedom (and free exercise, free speech, and free expression) today come in the form of SOGI laws — as wedding vendors refusing to participate in same-sex marriages are sued on the basis of sexual orientation discrimination," Weber explained.

The 12 cases mentioned in the report were organized in chronological order, and largely concerned Christian business owners who have been asked to provide service to gay couples for their weddings, but have refused due to their belief that marriage is solely between one man and one woman.

While a number of the listed cases are not yet settled, and still going through the courts, they all concern people of faith who have been threatened or punished by the government to go against their beliefs.

The list began with the 2006 case of Elane Photography, where Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin refused to provide photography for a same-sex wedding between two women, as it went against their beliefs on marriage. They were sued for their refusal to provide the service, and although they went all the way to the New Mexico Supreme Court, the state's anti-discrimination laws won over their religious freedom rights, and they were ordered to pay nearly $7,000 in attorneys' fees.

As The Washington Post reported, the state human rights commission had found that the Huguenins violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act in their refusal to photograph the wedding.

"When Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races," the court argued at the time.

The full list of cases, available on the FRC website, goes all the way up to Carl and Angel Larsen of Telescope Media Group, who are facing the danger of being fined up to $25,000 in damages if they refuse to provide media and film services to gay couples on their weddings — and so they filed a suit earlier this year asking Minnesota law to protect them from being compelled to violate their faith.

The other 10 cases are: 

  • Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (2007)
  • Wildflower Inn – Jim and Mary O'Reilly (2011)
  • TimberCreek Bed & Breakfast – Jim and Beth Walder (2011)
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop – Jack Phillips (2012)
  • Sweet Cakes by Melissa – Aaron and Melissa Klein (2013)
  • Arlene's Flowers – Barronelle Stutzman (2013)
  • Liberty Ridge Farm – Cynthia and Robert Gifford (2013)
  • Gortz Haus Gallery – Dick and Betty Odgaard (2013)
  • The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel – Don and Evelyn Knapp (2014)
  • Brush & Nib Studio – Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski (2016)

FRC's report explains in its conclusion that the First Amendment is meant to protect all Americans and their right to practice their faith.

"Requiring a cake-baker, wedding photographer, or other artisan to promote a message that contradicts sincerely-held, personal beliefs certainly violates the First Amendment," the conservative group argued.

"Compelling artists who support natural marriage to speak a particular message by forcing them to participate in a particular event violates the principles of the First Amendment and oversteps the historical use of public accommodation laws," it added.

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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