This week, “Family Policy Matters” features a portion of a keynote address on why pro-family citizens are called to stand boldly for the Truth about marriage that Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, gave at the North Carolina Family Policy Council’s Major Speakers dinner event in Winston-Salem, NC, in November 2015.
INTRODUCTION: Thank you for joining us for Family Policy Matters. This week, we are pleased to bring you part of a powerful presentation that Alliance Defending Freedom attorney, Kellie Fiedorek gave at the North Carolina Family Policy Council’s Major Speakers dinner event in Winston-Salem in November 2015.
Kellie Fiedorek is legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom in its Washington, DC office where she serves at the Center for Marriage and Family.
JOHN RUSTIN: In the following excerpt from her address, Kellie shares the moving stories of two ordinary Americans who are under attack for simply living out their deeply held religious beliefs about marriage. And she explains why pro-family citizens are called to stand with these brave men and women, and boldly speak and live out the Truth about marriage in an increasingly challenging culture.
KELLIE FIEDOREK: Our call to speak and to live the truth about marriage and to winsomely articulate this to our friends, family, and acquaintances in love and compassion is perhaps more important today than ever before. And that is because the state and the majority, they can get it wrong, destructively wrong, and the Founders were keenly aware of that, and that’s why our very first civil liberty that they protected was religious liberty. Indeed, justice demands that our laws continue to protect the basic human right of religious freedom and free speech that is currently under attack in our country, because protecting conscience is society’s way of buying an insurance policy against injustice. Think about it, without conscience the civil rights movement would never have happened, and the resistance to Hitler would have been unthinkable. If we don’t have the freedom to live and to work and to think freely according to our beliefs, we are silenced, and unable to speak the truth into the darkness around us. So let’s be mindful of our heritage on these matters, and maintain that same moral conviction and courage to act on that conviction.
I want to tell you a few stories. I love talking about our clients who we get to represent. And these are ordinary men and women who are standing up to those who insist they know what is best for you and me. They are people who have either lost their jobs or face the loss of their jobs, or their business or even their whole life savings, simply because they had the courage to stand up against the government and stand for the truth about marriage. Some of them face jail time because they said, “No,” when the government tried to force them to violate their conscience.
The first gentleman that I want to tell you about this evening is Calvin Cochran. Some of you may have heard of him—he’s the former fire chief for the City of Atlanta. And I always laugh because I think it’s really interesting how our opponents pick some of the best people in the world to go after. I mean, I don’t know if any of you have had the privilege of meeting Calvin Cochran, but he’s one of the most noble, humble, Godly men, and civil servants that I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. But Chief Cochran had an exemplary 34 year record serving as a top official for the Obama Administration before Atlanta’s mayor, whose now going after him, begged him to come back to serve again as the City’s Fire Chief. He is a man honored as the “Fire Chief of the Year” by Fire Chief Magazine. But he is now the former Fire Chief, not because he retired or performed poorly, or committed any misdeed, but because his beliefs were out of alignment with prevailing orthodoxy at City Hall. You see, Chief Cochran decided in his own time to write a men’s Bible study, and in that Bible study there is a paragraph that talks about some of the sexual sins that men, and all of us obviously, are tempted with. Then a complaint was filed against him saying that he had engaged in some sort of discriminatory behavior by handing out his book to some of his colleagues, who had asked him to do so. And he actually obtained permission [from the mayor] and he provided a copy to the mayor. But after someone complained about his book, he soon found himself being investigated, and that investigation found he never discriminated against anyone. Nevertheless, despite the fact that this investigation found no violation of the law, Chief Cochran was fired early this year. He wasn’t fired for his actions, but he was fired for his beliefs. So much for tolerance and for diversity that our opponents are so apt to say that they stand for! While laws that are supposed to protect discrimination might sound good in theory, the government is using these laws to cause our country to hurt people, to force them to conform, to silence them if they dare to disagree, to destroy them if they don’t use their heart, their mind, their creative talents to promote the event that the government wants them to promote.
The last story is a personal hero of mine, Barronnel Stutsman. For those of you who don’t know Barronnel, she’s a 70 year-old grandmother who owns a floral shop in Washington state. And for the past 40 years, she’s served all people who come into her shop, regardless of sexual orientation, and she also employs people in her shop that are gay and bisexual, so she’s been welcoming to everyone that has entered her shop. And one of her dear fiends and clients—and if you ask her she tears up every time she talks about him—Rob Ingersoll, he’s been a friend of hers for 10 years. And he would often come in and ask her to do flowers for housewarming parties and for Valentines Day and for Mother’s Day and other events, and they had a very special relationship. Well, in 2012 Washington state redefined marriage, but in 2007 Washington state had also expanded its non-discrimination law to protect sexual orientation and gender identity. Well, this law kind of kicked in when marriage was redefined, and so Rob came to Barronnel and asked her if she would do the flowers and participate in his wedding for him. And she put a hand on his and said, “You know, Rob, I love you and care so much about you, but you know that my faith in Jesus Christ prevents me from being able to participate in this event, but I know a couple of other florists that I would gladly refer you to that would do just as good of a job.” And Rob said that he understood, and they chatted and hugged, and Rob left. And Barronnel, being an elderly women who likes to mind her own business and just create flowers, thought that that was the end of it. Well, Rob’s partner put a message up on Facebook that kind of went viral, and the Attorney General of Washington state found out about what had happened, and in an unprecedented action—never before in our country have we seen an attorney general do something like the Washington state attorney general—filed a lawsuit against Barronnel, saying she violated Washington’s law against discrimination. Since then, the ACLU has piled on, the same-sex couple decided to sue her, and both parties have not only sued her in her business, but they’ve sued her in her personal capacity as well. This means that she could stand to lose everything she owns, her life savings, and her home, and everything her husband owns as well can be taken by the state to pay all the attorney fees. And yet Barronnel is committed to standing on principal, she’s unafraid, and she’s the most courageous woman I think I’ve ever met, and so loving and so kind to continue in this fight. We lost in the Trial Court earlier this year, and we’ve now asked the Washington State Supreme Court to review her case, so if you could please keep that case in your prayers, because what happens in these cases is critical to the future of our country, and where our freedoms are going.
This conflict is real and it’s present, and as I said earlier the government is no longer freedom’s best friend and protector. We are now witnessing a new government orthodoxy bent on punishing and silencing anyone who dares to voice a view contrary to what they want us to voice. I think we have to ask: When did we decide that open, robust, public discourse makes the world worse instead of better? When did we decide it was okay to marginalize, shun, and personally and professionally destroy those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman, the belief religions and governments have shared for centuries? This is not live and let live. As you think about these issues, please consider the effect of these types of laws on the Barronnels and the Calvins of this world, and don’t think that it can’t happen to any of us, because it can. And my fear is that it will unless we step up.
The real test of liberty is what happens when you disagree. Religious liberty is our first liberty, and it’s the bedrock on which all other liberties rest. It allows us to explore the meaning of life, to form our conscience, and then to live and to work and to act consistent with those beliefs. We don’t need to send people to jail or take everything they own because they won’t renounce their beliefs on marriage, and we should never agree that our God-given right to live consistently with our faith is lost when we step outside the four walls of our church. It’s people like Calvin and Barronnel who never imagine they would be called for such a time as this, and yet they were, and they answered that call. They give me hope, and I hope that they give you hope as well. I hope that they inspire you to keep fighting.
So what do we do? How do you engage for such a time as this? The answer is actually quite simple: it’s to rejoice and to persevere. “Again I say rejoice,” which comes to us from scripture. “Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trial of may kinds, because you know the testing of our faith develops perseverance.” And “be joyful always” says Paul to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
For so many reasons, I say rejoice because I know that darkness never permanently prevails, and whether we want to review the historical accounts of our country, we know that a bright day is ahead. And I say rejoice and persevere because God’s grace and His mercy are neither dampened nor weakened by the state of our culture. And lastly, I say rejoice because we have the ability to change things. We might be demonized and disliked, and maybe even sued. Courage displayed in the cause of truth and of right is powerful. I saw this up close and personal, when I spent about six weeks here on the ground this past spring, working with John Rustin and his incredible NC Family team in meetings with legislators, with governor’s staff, and with the pastors. They brought truth and conviction with them. And we saw perseverance paid off, and our efforts were not in vain, even when the governor vetoed an important bill to protect religious freedom, the legislature banded together, thanks to encouragement from North Carolina Family Policy Council, and they overrode the governor’s veto.
Each of us has a role to play in the battle that’s before us for such a time as this. We cannot be satisfied with mediocrity, but we must rebuild the culture, and this starts with our own hearts, our own families, and our friends, and our communities. We cannot sit idly by when others are hurting and simply think, “Well that’s too bad, and I’ll pray for them.” And don’t get me wrong, prayer is obviously critical to what we do. But we also need action. Christ calls us to action. We can’t cease to recognize or turn a blind eye to the fact that other people’s sexual and marital choices do affect us. There’s a reason that we’re all supposed to attend and witness and celebrate weddings, and it’s not for the dancing and the good food at the reception, although that’s a great part. We are witnesses to a God-ordained union and have responsibility regarding its fitness and its endurance. When the preacher says to everyone, “That what God has joined together, let no man no man separate,” he’s not just telling us not to sleep with one of them, but he’s placing upon us a God-ordained burden. So we must take an interest in our neighbors, and even people that we don’t know, we must call upon and encourage the church to be a beacon of hope and truth and conviction in the battles that lay ahead of us. And I pray that with great humility, we will recognize that the answer to our society’s current culture of marriage rests entirely with us. If we want our society to revere and to value marriage, we must revere and value marriage, and boldly and unabashedly speak out without compromise to this beautiful and sacred relationship that reflects Christ and His church. And we need not fear the Supreme Court regarding these questions of basic fundaments rights. The truth of marriage begins and ends in the Word of God, and that truth within our culture depends on the willingness of those of us within that culture to live and to breathe this truth, and to fight for the freedom to speak and to live consistent with those beliefs. So, let’s fully embrace the challenge before us and engage.
So, my question is: Will you be the next Esther? In your own way, in the way God calls to use you here in North Carolina, will you stand beside Barronnell and those who are standing on their convictions? Will you tell their stories? Will you take a stand for marriage and religious freedom for future generations, because we have God, we have truth, and we have each other on our side! Thank you.
JOHN RUSTIN: You’ve been listening to a portion of keynote address given by Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kellie Fiedorek at the North Carolina Family Policy Council’s Major Speakers dinner event in Winston-Salem in November 2015.
Thank you for listening! We hope you’ve been encouraged by what you have heard. And if you would like to learn more about the North Carolina Family Policy Council and our Major Speaker dinner events, please visit our website at ncfamily.org
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