As we come to the end of this year’s Black History Month, I reflected on the life of Rosa Parks. You will recall that on December 1, 1955, Ms. Parks refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat in the “colored” section of the bus to a white passenger. She was arrested for “civil disobedience” and charged with “disorderly conduct” for violating Alabama’s segregation laws. At trial the next day, she was found guilty and fined $10, plus $4 in court costs. She appealed the sentence and fine, and challenged the legality of racial segregation. Her act of defiance led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and she remained a powerful symbol of resistance to racial segregation in the United States throughout her life. Although others in Montgomery had previously been arrested for refusing to yield their seats to white people, no one could begin to imagine the repercussions that a middle-aged, department store seamstress would create around the world.
Barronelle Stutzman is a 70-year-old grandmother and florist from Washington State. She is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. She is also a devout Christian believer. Several years ago, two of her long-time customers, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed (hereinafter the “Lads”), asked for her to provide flowers for their “homosexual” wedding. However, she declined because it violated her strongly-held religious belief that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. The Lads then sued Ms. Stutzman, and further, the Attorney General of Washington, Robert Ferguson, Esq., a Democrat who was elected despite a lack of prosecutorial experience, filed another lawsuit against Ms. Stutzman for violating Washington’s consumer protection law. (How is it discrimination since the Lads were clients of Ms. Stutzman’s flower shop for nine years? But I digress.) At trial, on February 18, 2015, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander C. Ekstrom ruled that Ms. Stutzman had violated the Washington law by refusing to provide flowers for the Lads’ wedding. Further, media reports indicate that the judge ruled that “while religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren’t necessarily protected.” So this new rule of law is that it’s acceptable to believe in God, but don’t apply your beliefs to daily life. It is a particularly rich irony that Judge Ekstrom would make that determination given that the writers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights thought it just might be important to protect Americans from government interference with their thoughts and religious practice.
Those of us who are signers of the Manhattan Declaration have vowed civil disobedience if we come to conclude that our rights to civil liberties are violated. The Declaration states:
We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required.
Emphasis added. As we conclude Black History Month, let us remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote in his Letters From A Birmingham Jail:
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. . . . Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.
Ms. Stutzman is leading the way for us, just as Ms. Parks did in her generation. For me, we have arrived at the time in our nation’s history when it is now proper to resist evil encroachments on our freedom and civil liberties in accordance with Acts of the Apostles 5:29. Please pray for Ms. Stutzman and her attorneys. Thank you, Ms. Stutzman, for standing strong in the Lord Jesus Christ when all of the institutions of government seek to silence you.