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Government’s Coercive Threat to Religious Liberty


This week, NC Family president John Rustin talks with Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, about the escalating threat to religious liberty from the legalization of same-sex unions, and what pro-family citizens should do to fight back.

Kellie Fiedorek discusses religious liberty

“Family Policy Matters”
Transcript: Government’s Coercive Threat to Religious Liberty

INTRODUCTION: Kellie Fiedorek is legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom in its Washington, DC office, where she serves on the marriage litigation team.

Kellie is with us to talk about the escalating threat to religious liberty from the legalization of same-sex unions in the United States, and what we, as pro-family citizens, can do to fight back.

JOHN RUSTIN: Kellie, we’ve talked on several occasions about the potential threat to religious liberty if marriage were redefined by the courts. And now that the United States Supreme Court has legalized same-sex unions across our land, we are really seeing that threat carried out in many different ways, as well as a growing hostility toward the traditional view of marriage. Give us some examples, if you would, of the attacks that we’re seeing on religious liberty, now the Supreme Court’s has taken the action that it has.

KELLIE FIEDOREK: We’re seeing a variety of different threats to individual religious liberty around the country. Those include government officials, for example, those who have the authority to solemnize marriages. We’re representing a judge in Wyoming right now, who the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct has filed a complaint against, simply for making a statement that, because of her faith, she would be unable to solemnize a same-sex “marriage.” We also see charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, and small business owners that simply don’t want to use their creative or artistic skills to participate in an event that violates their conscience. And so I think the threat is going to be widespread, and we’re seeing it pop up in a large numbers of areas. It’s a scary time to think that your belief about marriage, and [the belief] that kids deserve a mom and a dad, could be under attack by the government.

JOHN RUSTIN: That’s absolutely true, and one prime example is Baronnelle Stutzman, the owner of Arleen’s Flowers in Washington State, who I know that you have worked with. Baronnelle has been under attack for her beliefs on marriage, even before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions. Alliance Defending Freedom is defending her, and you have called her, your “hero.” Tell us about Baronnelle Stutzman, and why her case is so important to the battle over religious liberty in our nation right now?

KELLIE FIEDOREK: Baronnelle is my hero, and she’s the most wonderful, loving 72 year-old grandmother, who has owned and worked at her floral shop in Washington state now for nearly four decades, and has employed all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation, and has also served all individuals regardless of sexual orientation. A couple of years ago, one of her long-time friends and customers, Rob Ingersoll, asked her to design and participate in his upcoming same-sex wedding. And because of her faith and belief in the sacredness of marriage, she had to refer him to someone else. And she did that, and thought that things were good between them. She was just minding her own business going about creating floral arrangements, but subsequently—in really an unprecedented action, as we’ve never seen a state Attorney General do this before—the Attorney General of Washington has sued Baronnelle in her business, as well as personally. The ACLU [has also sued], and she’s now facing two lawsuits. And so what she stands to lose is everything—her savings, her home, and her retirement. Washington is a community property state, so that means they can come after her husband’s assets as well. And what this case says to us is that we are no longer secure in our own freedoms… We now have a government that’s coming after us and trying to either silence us, or trying to make us conform to its new understanding and definition of marriage, and that’s truly frightening.

JOHN RUSTIN: I have told many people recently that based on the Supreme Court’s decision, this threat is going to eventually confront every one of us. And I think folks really need to understand that, and they need to be prepared to take a stand as Baronnelle Stutzman did… Now, ADF recently commissioned a poll that Barna conducted about religious liberty. Before we talk about the findings of the poll, [will you] briefly talk about the purpose of this poll, and what some of the questions were asked in it?

KELLIE FIEDOREK: After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this past June that same-sex marriage must be made legal in all 50 states, there was a desire to see what the sentiment was amongst American people of this perspective on religious freedom. Is religious freedom worse today, or more under attack today than it was 10 years ago? So a lot of the questions focused on where do people see a threat to religious freedom now, as opposed to 10 years ago.

JOHN RUSTIN: What did the poll find in terms of overall concern about religious liberty among Americans?

KELLIE FIEDOREK: It found that over the past 10 years there is a significant increase in individuals who are concerned. And I think that some of the questions focused on the fact of, “Don’t you think Americans should be able to disagree over issues without using the government to force one another out of jobs, or in to jail, simply for what you believe?” The poll revealed that significant amounts of Americans believe that religious freedom is under attack, that the government, who is supposed to be freedom’s best friend, has become in recent years, it’s worse enemy.

JOHN RUSTIN: One of the key findings from the Barna poll involved the view of Millennial Christians, younger adult Christians, toward religious liberty. Tell us about these findings, and why they are important.

KELLIE FIEDOREK: Sixty percent of Christian Millennials in the poll believe that religious freedom is worse today, compared to 40 percent in 2012. Fifty-six percent said that they were very concerned about the future of religious freedom. And this really ultimately makes sense that Millennials do have these concerns about the loss of freedom, the erosion of freedom, because that’s increased in their lifetime more rapidly than really any generation before. They’ve grown up seeing bakers and photographers, and CEO’s, and fire chiefs, and their own professors be attacked, pushed out of their careers, simply for peacefully expressing moral convictions. So, I think that the results of the poll really reflect what we’ve seen in society and the consequences of the government coming in and forcing people to violate their beliefs.

JOHN RUSTIN: That’s encouraging that there’s a broader awareness and concern about this because it’s certainly something that we believe that citizens of all ages, of all races, and even of all faiths need to be concerned about, because if one individuals’ beliefs can be infringed upon, then what’s to keep that from happening to someone else? Again, our Constitutions protect, as a fundamental right, our religious liberties, and so it is a something that we all should be concerned about…

Kellie, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about what people of faith can do to protect our rights to communicate the Truth about marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Of course, on the policy level in North Carolina, we have pursued in the state legislature, a piece of legislation called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA), which you were kind enough to help us with during this past legislative session. Unfortunately, that legislation was not enacted into law, but we are still working to educate and encourage our lawmakers to enact that Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would really allow citizens an avenue to resolve disputes in court if they believe a law or ordinance is infringing upon their religious liberties. Of course, you wrote an excellent feature article for us on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for the latest issue of our magazine, Family North Carolina. Tell us a little bit about RFRA, and what it would do to help protect religious liberties?

KELLIE FIEDOREK: Unfortunately, RFRA really was under attack from a messaging PR perspective for the past year, where it was heavily attacked, heavily misconstrued, which is really unfortunate because it’s a really common sense measure that 21 states and the federal government already have in place. And really all it says is that, look, if the government does come in and try to force you to violate your beliefs, you at least have a day in court. You get to go into court, you get to have a defense, and the judge will ultimately decide. To me, who can oppose a fair hearing at the end of the day? It doesn’t pick winners or losers, but it simply says, “Hey the government’s trying to force you to do something that you don’t want to do, and you at least have a day in court.” And really this is a law every state should have, our free speech rights, our freedom of press, subject to the same level of heightened scrutiny, and there’s no reason why the free exercise of our religious beliefs shouldn’t be held to the same heightened standard.

JOHN RUSTIN: And RFRA does not just apply to issued of marriage, but it applies in any number of circumstances where an individual believes that their religious liberties have been infringed upon by the government.

KELLIE FIEDOREK: That’s right. Ultimately, the law puts the burden on the government to show that it has a really important reason for coming in and forcing you to violate your religious beliefs or your moral convictions, and then it’s used the narrowest way possible. There’s no other way for the government to achieve that interest. And it really reflects the 200-plus year history of our country, where we’ve successfully balanced important government interests with the religious beliefs of all Americans.

JOHN RUSTIN: Kellie, another bill that’s been introduced in the Congress is a response more directly to the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage, and that is the First Amendment Defense Act. Talk about that legislation, if you would a little bit, and how it would specifically protect charities, small business owners, and nonprofits from being censored or punished for their views on marriage?

KELLIE FIEDOREK: This bill is a really important bill that reflects the idea that religious charities shouldn’t be forced to confirm or convert to a government-imposed belief system in order to have equal access to government resources. So, essentially what the law would do, it simply says the government cannot discriminate against a person or an organization based on their beliefs about marriage. It can’t take away their tax-exempt status; it can’t take away their licensing; it can’t take away their benefits, simply because of their belief on marriage. And I think that every state needs to enact the same law that the federal government has introduced, because private charities are the ones that are protecting the elderly, they’re serving the poor, they’re serving abused women and children, the homeless, the addicted, the hungry, and they should have access to public resources, and not have to live in fear of being shut down simply by trying to offer hope to the people who need a hand up.

JOHN RUSTIN: Kellie, before we go, I want to mention an incredibly valuable and helpful resource that ADF has produced for churches, for Christian schools, and other ministries called, Protecting Your Ministry. Share with us a bit about this legal manual, and why it is such a critical tool for Christians to have to ensure that they have those elements in place that are necessary to give them the strongest level of protection possible.

KELLIE FIEDOREK: Alliance Defending Freedom designed this booklet precisely for that reason, for churches, for schools, for other ministries, to ensure that they have strong articles of incorporation, strong bylaws in place, to essentially build up a strong defense, to make sure that they’re as strengthened as possible should they face a lawsuit down the road. We want to make sure that the organizations that are serving people and serving Christ are protected. We designed this booklet specifically with them in mind, to make sure they have the legal fortification, if you will, against potential lawsuits in the future, to give them the greatest likelihood of success, should they be sued at some point in the future.

JOHN RUSTIN: We certainly hope that doesn’t happen… And I think that we would agree that we are likely to be seeing more and more of these legal challenges, as people are confronted, as churches and Christian schools, and other ministries are confronted with this issue, that there is a growing likelihood of lawsuits and challenges. And so this is such an important tool that those ministries need. Where can our listeners go to get more information about the “Protecting Your Ministry” legal manual, and also to get more information about Alliance Defending Freedom?

KELLIE FIEDOREK: If you go to our website, which is, the information about protecting your ministry, as well as many of our cases and those that we serve, all that information can be found there.

JOHN RUSTIN: Kellie, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters today, and for your time and your commitment to protecting marriage, religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and all the other areas that you work on at ADF. We’re incredibly grateful for all the contributions that you make toward this effort.

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