The freedom to discern right from wrong is among the most fundamental of human rights. It is so central to our being that it is a defining aspect of human nature itself. If we have no conscience, or no freedom to express our conscience, then we are denied part of our humanity.
Freedom of conscience was on trial on Thursday before the Oregon Court of Appeals. Aaron and Melissa Klein and their business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are currently the subject of a major religious freedom lawsuit. The Kleins lost their bakery and were fined $135,000 for declining to create a custom-made wedding cake for a same-sex marriage. Also of note, the Kleins were given a gag order by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, preventing them from speaking publicly about the details of the case or their religious beliefs.
This comes on the heels of Richland, WA, florist Barronelle Stutzman losing her case in the Washington State Supreme Court (Stutzman was sued by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson after she declined to provide a same-sex wedding). These cases, and the many like them currently being litigated around the country, are not about homosexuality or Christianity. What is at stake is the fundamental liberty and natural right of each of us as American citizens to live our lives according to our sincerely-held beliefs.
For small business owners everywhere, many state governments, including Washington and Oregon, are making their position clear: deny your own conscience or give up your business, have your savings accounts emptied, and possibly spend time in jail.
Canadian philosopher Stefan Molyneux explains the issue well: “If you have no freedom of conscience, you have no freedom at all. Conscience must be inviolate. It’s the essence of who we are.”
Likewise, “When people can force you to go against what your conscience dictates, they own you more deeply than any slave master,” Molyneux said on his Freedomain Radio show.
You may not personally know Aaron and Mellissa Klein, Barronelle Stutzman, Donald and Evelyn Knapp, or Cynthia and Robert Gifford, but these people represent the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Their battle is our battle. If they continue losing in court, the government will have the unchecked power to strong-arm individuals of any race, religion or creed into violating their conscience. It is my hope that every individual, Christian and Atheist, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, straight and gay, will reject that dastardly kind of totalitarianism.
James Silberman is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog. He is a pro-life activist from Gig Harbor, WA, and a student at Whitworth University.