Last week I was at a big religious liberty conference sponsored by Alliance Defending Freedom, the public interest legal organization that fights in court and elsewhere for religious liberty. I have been saying at least since the Indiana RFRA rout that organizations like ADF, The Becket Fund, and others like it are pretty much the last line of defense for Christians in this post-Christian culture. Having spent a week listening and talking to lawyers, law professors, and others on the front lines of religious liberty battles, I’m convinced of it.
Conference proceedings were off the record, so I can’t write specifically about what was said there (except for one case, which I’ll get to in a moment). But I can say in general that this was not an optimistic crowd. Observers who had been to this same event in past years told me the 2016 gathering was far more sober — which is to say, realistic. Obergefell, as well as the rapidly-changing cultural conditions around transgenderism and related questions, have been game-changers. From what I could tell, that decision and these realities have, if anything, increased their determination to fight in court with all we have to protect religious liberty. But we must be honest about the reality of the gathering storm.
I met two people who have been very much at the tip of the spear: small-town Washington florist Barronelle Stutzman, sued by a longtime gay customer whose wedding she could not do flowers for because of her faith, and former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, fired from his job by the city’s mayor for a book he wrote for his Sunday School class (one that contained a few paragraphs critical of homosexuality). I talked to both of them personally, and listened to them both give presentations about their experiences. These are both deeply good, humble people who have been done a terrible injustice. And there weren’t the only ones there.
Barronelle may be the gentlest person I’ve ever met, period. But she is an absolute rock. Watch her on this short clip. She stands to lose everything she owns in this case, and to face her final years (she is 70) bankrupt. The state Attorney General offered her a deal that would have dropped the case in exchange for her paying a $2,001 fine and agreeing henceforth to do flowers for gay weddings. She said no:
“Washington’s constitution guarantees us ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment.’ I cannot sell that precious freedom,” Stutzman’s letter asserts. “You are asking me to walk in the way of a well-known betrayer, one who sold something of infinite worth for 30 pieces of silver. That is something I will not do.”
Stutzman’s letter added that Ferguson continues to prove that he does not understand the true meaning of “freedom.”
“Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about. It’s about freedom, not money,” Stutzman wrote. “I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.”
Barronelle told me in an interview that Christians all over this country had better understand that they are not safe. “If they can come after me, they can go after anybody,” she said.
And she’s right.
I got to spend time with Kaeley Triller, a young single mom from Seattle who was fired by the YMCA for objecting to its new transgender locker room policy. Kaeley is a survivor of childhood rape. She tells her story here. Excerpt:
I am not saying that transgender people are predators. Not by a long shot. What I am saying is that there are countless deviant men in this world who will pretend to be transgender as a means of gaining access to the people they want to exploit, namely women and children. It already happens. Just Google Jason Pomares, Norwood Smith Burnes, or Taylor Buehler, for starters.
While I feel a deep sense of empathy for what must be a very difficult situation for transgender people, at the beginning and end of the day, it is nothing short of negligent to instate policies that elevate the emotional comfort of a relative few over the physical safety of a large group of vulnerable people.
Don’t they know anything about predators? Don’t they know the numbers? That out of every 100 rapes, only two rapists will spend so much as single day in jail while the other 98 walk free and hang out in our midst? Don’t they know that predators are known to intentionally seek out places where many of their preferred targets gather in groups? That perpetrators are addicts so committed to their fantasies they’ll stop at nothing to achieve them?
There’s no way to make everyone happy in the situation of transgender locker room use. So the priority ought to be finding a way to keep everyone safe. I’d much rather risk hurting a smaller number of people’s feelings by asking transgender people to use a single-occupancy restroom that still offers safety than risk jeopardizing the safety of thousands of women and kids with a policy that gives would-be predators a free pass.
I didn’t believe in rape culture until a 6’3”, 250-pound grown man stared angrily into my eyes and proclaimed to me how hurtful it was that I did not want to see his penis. And people agreed with him. (Because men forcing themselves on women is something new and different?)
I didn’t believe in victim shaming until I received death threats for sharing my experience of sexual trauma in hopes of protecting women in their most vulnerable places. “Stay at home if you’re uncomfortable,” they jeered. “You’re so ugly that no one would want to rape you anyway.”
I didn’t believe in systemic misogyny until I was told that my hard-earned boundaries were actually just bigotry and that my red flags were irrelevant. I guess “My body, my choice” doesn’t include my right to determine who gets to see it? “An erection in the shower next to you is no cause for alarm,” they explained. “It’s a normal bodily function. Use this as an opportunity to ‘educate’ yourself.”
Kaeley is part of the Just Want Privacy campaign, which is trying to get a proposal on the ballot to keep biological males out of women’s locker rooms in the state of Washington. The other day, I featured a video of transgenders no-platforming members of Just Want Privacy — including feminists — who were trying to give speeches advocating their position. Watch the clip here. These trans bullies are a pack of pinkshirts, trying to intimidate and silence their opponents using fascist tactics.
Someone with the campaign told me that one of their members approached 120 individual churches asking them to join their effort. Only seven said yes. Seven churches out of 120. I asked why so few. The answer? “They’re afraid to be seen as unloving.”
Let me tell it to you straight: there is no place for that kind of cowardice in this fight. None. The battle is here, and it is now, and there are ordinary people who never sought a fight, but the fight came to them. You spend any time in the presence of these people, and hear their stories, and come to understand what they are suffering for their faith (Barronelle wept when talking about the people who have threatened to burn her house down), and if you have a shred of decency or honor or courage within you, you will stand up with them.
You had better. Barronelle is right: if the pinkshirts can come for her, a small-town florist, and can do so with the ACLU and the Washington state Attorney General on their side, as well as the media, nothing but dedicated lawyers stand between those powerful bullies and you. You think you’re safe, but you’re not. You think that appearing winsome and loving will protect you. It won’t.