Religious liberty violations recounted at NRB

NASHVILLE (BP) -- As followers of Christ in America experience increasing attacks against their religious liberty, Christian journalists have an opportunity to lay the groundwork for rights of conscience to prevail, an attorney and a Fox News commentator said at Proclaim 16, the National Religious Broadcasters' International Christian Media Convention in Nashville.

Participants in a Feb. 25 NRB panel on religious liberty urged Christians to stand for freedom of conscience.
NRB photo
Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of legal advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom, said during an NRB panel discussion that ADF is contacted nearly every day by Christians whose religious liberty is being threatened because of their refusal to compromise spiritual convictions. Three such Christians joined Waggoner in a discussion moderated by Todd Starnes of Fox News and Commentary: a Washington state grocery store executive being sued for refusing to sell so-called emergency contraception; a Kentucky T-shirt store owner being sued for refusing to design shirts for a gay pride event; and a Washington state florist being sued for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding.

Starnes said "it is imperative" that Christian journalists tell the stories of believers like these whose religious liberty has been violated.

"If you have read the stories the mainstream media has done on these folks up here," Starnes said of the NRB panelists, you would think "they're right-wing, homophobic bigots ... dressed in robes, in bedsheets with pointy hats." But "we know that there's another story, and we're able to tell that story at Fox News. And I know that you'll be able to tell those stories on your platforms as well."

Waggoner underscored the point, saying Christian journalists are needed "to engage, to tell the stories in a winsome way -- accurate but winsome."

"Be a storyteller," she said Feb. 25, "and tell the narrative, because we win when the truth gets out."

Greg Stormans, vice president of Ralph's Thriftway, a family grocery business in Olympia, Wash., said he believes spiritual warfare is involved in a lawsuit spearheaded by the state and Planned Parenthood attempting to force the pharmacy in his store to sell abortion-causing drugs despite his family's religious objections.

"I never thought I would see [this] kind of dissension against our company within our community," Stormans said. "It happened with the pickets that were outside our store, which resulted in us initially losing 30 percent of our business. We were denigrated on social media. We were left voicemails and threats. Even in high school, my kids would come home and say, 'You know, my friends talk about this some and we've even had teachers comment on it very negatively.'"

The Stormans lost their latest round of appeals at a federal appellate court and are waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case, Waggoner said.

Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands on Originals, a T-shirt-making business in Lexington, Ky., said he will not change his mind about refusing to make shirts for a gay pride event because he's bound by God's laws.

After losing his case initially before a local human rights commission, Adamson won the right to remain true to his conscience in a Kentucky circuit court. The city has appealed to a state appellate court, Waggoner said.

"In His Word, God promises one thing -- not that we like to talk about it -- that we'll suffer for His name's sake," Adamson said. "The Word hasn't changed, so I can't change on my position."

Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Wash., said believers "need to stand up now" for religious liberty. She lost in court initially after being sued for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, and her case is being appealed to the Washington state Supreme Court, Waggoner said.

"It's me today, but it will be you tomorrow," Stutzman said. If believers do not defend their rights, "when our grandkids come and ask us why we don't have a free America anymore, we [will] simply have to say we did nothing."

Rather than despair at such attacks on religious freedom, Waggoner urged believers to be thankful they live in "such a time as this" -- a reference to the biblical book of Esther -- when they can make a difference by standing firm.

"How great is it that God trusted us enough to live now? In this unprecedented time in our nation, He trusted us to be here and to man our stations," Waggoner said. "... You have a station. So I just want to encourage you: man it for such a time as this."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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