GoFundMe shuts down another donations page for a Christian business owner accused of discrimination?
The question mark’s in the headline because they haven’t commented yet on where the page went or why, but you can guess what happened if you read Jazz’s post yesterday. A GoFundMe page for a different Christian-owned business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon, was yanked down by GFM because there are discrimination charges pending against the owner and it’s GFM’s policy not to raise money “in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful, or sexual acts.” Politely refusing to cater a gay wedding is, evidently, now a “heinous crime.” But that raised a question: If charity for Sweet Cakes was verboten, why wasn’t it also verboten for Barronelle Stutzman, the Christian florist from Washington who’s also facing discrimination charges for declining to provide the flowers for a longtime gay customer’s marriage ceremony? With help from Dana Loesch, the GoFundMe page for Stutzman had apparently already reached six figures. And now suddenly it’s gone, likely the next victim in GFM’s left-appeasing policy of treating discrimination allegations about a religious business owner’s objection to gay marriage as too heinous for a respectable business to tolerate.
I take it this is GFM’s way of atoning to liberals for sponsoring the fabulously successful donations drive for Memories Pizza, which reached nearly a cool million dollars before it ended. What happens, though, if the charges against Stutzman are dropped and she goes back to being merely a target of the left instead of a target of the state? Reinstating the page will irritate gay-rights activists; maintaining the suspension will alienate conservatives. Weird trap for a business to set for itself, especially since Samaritan’s Purse is already angling to fill this specialized niche in the market.
There’s a little bit of hope out there for some, but not all, Christian business owners, though:
Speech is speech! At least we have the settled for the moment, anyway, for this one case. The circuit court for Fayette County in Kentucky has ruled that the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission erred when it determined that a Christian T-shirt company discriminated when it refused to print shirts for a gay pride event.
In 2012 a Lexington, Kentucky, gay organization filed a complaint against Hands On Originals, a shirt company who wears its Christianity right on its site, if not on its sleeves (sorry, couldn’t resist). The organization asked for Hands On Originals to make shirts for their 2012 gay pride festival. The shirt company declined, because they didn’t support the message the group wanted printed. The group then accused the company of violating the county’s public accommodation laws, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The response from Hands On was that they weren’t discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. They were refusing to print a message with which they disagreed.
That’s the winning ticket. Turn this into a free-speech issue rather than a free-exercise issue and you’re more likely to win. The Supreme Court’s said before that laws of general applicability typically override an individual’s demand for an exemption on religious grounds, but judges are always leery of cases where the state tries to compel an individual to endorse a specific message. The tricky part for businesses like Sweet Cakes and Stutzman’s flower shop is that baking cakes and arranging flowers arguably aren’t a form of expressive activity, notwithstanding the creative element involved. Placing a message on a t-shirt is. Likewise, a Christian photographer may be on firmer ground than Stutzman insofar as choosing what to photograph and composing the shot are more widely regarded as a form of artistry, which courts might treat as expressive for First Amendment purposes. If you want Christian businesses to have a right of refusal on gay weddings, start thinking less in terms of faith and more in terms of speech.