I had the honor the other day of attending a luncheon hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom. They are one of the leading public interest law firms in the nation, dedicated to promoting and protecting life, marriage, and religious liberty. The purpose of the event was to highlight several people who have been suffering legal attacks, as a result of their public witness to their faith principles regarding human life and marriage.
These kinds of events are very important. It’s all too easy to deal with issues of religious liberty as abstractions, or as arcane constitutional law questions. That drains the life out of the issue, and prevents us from seeing what is really at stake. This panel provided a powerful reminder that religious liberty is a real-world issue, with real people suffering from real effects on their lives, careers, and businesses.
It can also be a story of real heroism, as exemplified by the people on this panel, all of whom have been defended by ADF:
- Baronelle Stutzman, who faces the loss of her florist business, her home, and her life savings, all because she declined to provide flower arrangements for a same-sex “marriage”. The State of Washington and the ACLU have been hounding her, and she faces crippling fines and legal fees. She also was the target of a deluge of hate calls, threats, and disruptions of her business. She described the ideology of her persecutors in stark terms: “If you don’t bow down to an agenda, you will be destroyed”. Yet she stands firm.
- Kelvin Cochran, who is pretty much everything you would want as an example of the American dream. An African-American from Louisiana, he grew up in dire poverty in a single-parent household, yet he was taught to rely on faith, patriotism, and hard work. He became a fire-fighter, and rose rapidly through the ranks to become Fire Chief of Shreveport, and then of Atlanta. He was even hired by President Obama to head the U.S. Fire Administration, before returning to Atlanta again. In 2014, he was summarily suspended from his job and ordered to undergo “sensitivity training”. His offense? Publishing a book expressing his belief in the Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality. Despite never having engaged in any discrimination — and having been a leader in fighting for equal opportunities — his career was ruined because he dared to speak out for his faith.
- Cathy DeCarlo, an immigrant from the Philippines who is a dedicated nurse from New York. She was coerced by her hospital employer into participating in a 22-week abortion, despite her objections due to her faith. She was threatened with being fired and having her nurse’s license revoked. As a result, she literally lived through a nightmare — having to witness the brutal dismemberment of a baby, being forced to inspect and dispose of the child’s remains, and then reliving the horror in her memory and dreams. She sought legal recourse against the hospital, only to learn that neither state nor federal law gave her the right to sue for this egregious violation of her rights. Her words: “How could this happen in America?”
- Blaine Adamson, a small businessman from Kentucky. His T-Shirt company specialized in servicing Christian organizations, and was very careful not to get involved in printing any messages that were contrary to his faith. So when the local gay and lesbian organization tried to place an order, he referred them to another printer. So began his descent in to the Kafkaesque world of “human rights” commissions. He was found guilty of discrimination, ordered to print the T-shirts, and required to consult with the government any time he thought about turning down a job because of the message. Even worse, he had to undergo “diversity training”, an Orwellian concept that is designed to use the muscle of the government to force him to admit that his ideas — his faith — is wrong and must be rejected. He too remains firm: “If no one stands up and says something, they win.”
- Jeanne Mancini, the President of the March for Life, which is the largest annual human rights event in the entire world, dedicated to defending life from the moment of conception. Her organization ran afoul of the evil HHS Mandate, which would have required them to provide health insurance and pay for drugs and devices that cause abortions — directly contrary to their mission. Because the March for Life is not a religious organization, she had no alternative but to sue in order to defend her rights. At the heart of their case is a simple principle — the right to life isn’t just a religious issue, it’s a human right. So, as she said, “We couldn’t not fight it”.
These admirable people are on the receiving end of the new intolerance, the message of which is stark — “conform to the orthodoxy of sexual liberationism, or be crushed”. This attitude is a danger to everyone, not just those who have the audacity to dissent. As Alan Sears, the admirable head of ADF, said (quoting Martin Luther King): “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Pope Francis, on his return flight after visiting the United States, said very clearly:
I can say conscientious objection is a right, and enters into every human right. It is a right, and if a person does now allow for conscientious objection, he or she is denying a right. Every legal system should provide for conscientious objection because it is a right, a human right.
Very few people are standing up to defend this basic human right. ADF is doing so, the Holy Father is doing so. And we all need to do so.