Lawsuits against Christians – sometimes even churches – have become common when they refuse to support non-Christian events, such as same-sex weddings. But now those defendants have started to fight back, filing lawsuits against state officials who are trying to coerce them to violate their faith.
WND reported in May when a Washington state florist sued Attorney General Bob Ferguson for allegedly trying to violate the state and federal constitutions’ religious freedom provisions.
And this week the Christian Institute in the United Kingdom profiled an Iowa couple suing their state’s Civil Rights Commission for the same reason.
“They have filed their own complaint saying that if the commission forces them to go against their beliefs and host gay weddings this would be a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act,” the Institute reports.
At issue is a claim against the Mennonite couple, Dick and Betty Odgaard, who own and operate the Gortz Haus Gallery, an old church building that is used for a variety of private events.
Homosexuals Lee Stafford and his partner, identified only as Jared, claim the Odgaards, devout Mennonites, turned them away from their facility when they wanted to hold a “gay wedding” there, and that violates their rights. They complained to that same Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
But the Odgaards responded with a claim against the state commission for trying to violate their religious rights. They are seeking punitive damages.
“Can I have my beliefs without being ostracized for that? I think I have my right … to stand firm to my convictions and beliefs,” Betty Odgaard told KCCI Television.
The Institute reported that the Christian couple reported a “devastating” backlash against them, including threatening emails and phone calls, over their adherence to their faith.
According to the Des Moines Register, the Odgaards explain that forcing them to violate their faith regarding the use of their Grimes facility is not allowed under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
“I have nothing against gays and lesbians,” Betty Odgaard told the newspaper. “I just personally believe that a marriage is between one man and one woman. I don’t condemn or judge anybody else for their beliefs and how they live their life.”
Pro-homosexual interests blast the couple for their beliefs. Donna Red Wing, who leads an Iowa homosexual rights organization, told the newspaper. “An individual should not be prohibited from enjoying basic freedoms because of someone else’s religious beliefs.”
The Odgaards are represented by the Beckett Fund, which said in a statement, “The government is trying to either force Betty and Richard to publicly violate their faith or punish them for holding it.
“Betty and Richard believe that a wedding is an inherently religious ceremony that communicates something important to society. But the Iowa Civil Rights Commission is forcing Betty and Richard to personally host a same-sex wedding ceremony that violates their religious beliefs. Although Betty and Richard have served and hired gay individuals in the past, and have gay friends and family members whom they hold in high regard, they cannot personally host a wedding ceremony that violates their beliefs.”
He had sued Stutzman for alleged violations of state law authorizing same-sex “marriage,” but now he is facing a legal action himself because of the provisions of the state constitution.
“The Washington State Constitution, in Article 1, Section 11, absolutely protects ‘freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment, belief, and worship’ and guarantees that ‘no one shall be molested or disturbed in person or property on account of religion,'” according to attorneys representing Stutzman.
The countersuit asks for a declaration that Ferguson’s actions are “unlawful” and to enjoin similar future actions. It seeks reasonable attorneys’ fees and litigation costs and “such other relief that the court deems just and equitable.”
The countersuit was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys on behalf of Stutzman, whom they already were defending from the attorney general’s complaint.
Ferguson alleges that the state can force the florist to violate her Christian beliefs and provide her artistic talents for the benefit of a same-sex “wedding.”
Stutzman has served homosexual clientele with a wide range of floral products over many years, and also has employed those who portray themselves as homosexual, with no issue. But she decided she could not, without violating her faith, give the appearance of endorsing same-sex “marriage” by creating special services for such an event, according to legal documents in her case.
So the state attorney general sued her, claiming discrimination.
She sued right back, claiming constitutional violations.
“Everyone knows that plenty of florists are willing to assist in same-sex ceremonies, so the state has no reason to force Barronelle to violate her deeply held beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Dale Schowengerdt.
“In America, the government is supposed to protect freedom, not use its intolerance for certain viewpoints to intimidate citizens into acting contrary to their faith convictions. Family business owners are constitutionally guaranteed the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs. It is this very freedom that gives America its cherished diversity and protects citizens from state-mandated conformity.”