Flower Shop’s Refusal to Serve GOP Highlights the Right (Not) to Do Business
The shock still hasn’t worn off from the shooting rampage that killed six innocent children and staff at Nashville’s Covenant Christian School. For some, that raw emotion has turned to rage, as people frantically look for someone to blame other than the killer. That’s resulted in some clearly drawn battlelines in the business community, where at least one local florist has decided the blood is on the GOP’s hands and has vowed to stop accepting jobs from the Republican Party. While liberals applauded the move, some Christians can’t help but notice the double standard. How can the Left praise progressives for bringing their views into the workplace, then turn around and sue believers who do the same?
The owners of Belle Meade’s FLWR Shop, Alex Vaughan and Quinn Kiesow, insist this isn’t about blacklisting conservatives. “… [W]e respect their views and appreciate their business,” the duo claimed on Instagram. “I want to make very clear that while I tend to lean quite liberal (I’m sure you’re all surprised) I DO believe in a society of varied beliefs. I think there is immense value to be gained from conservative viewpoints. I think a balance between liberalism and conservatism is healthy and vital.”
That said, owners argue that the Republican Party “not only refuses to enact change, but many members of the party have worked to pass legislation that makes this problem worse, like the recent changes in gun laws here in Tennessee.” The GOP, they claim, “has wasted taxpayer money and precious legislative will banning drag shows, rather than assault rifles that are being used to murder children in their classrooms.”
When the shop was approached about doing flowers for an RNC fundraiser with Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) in mid-April, Vaughan and Kiesow wrote that they “immediately declined this ‘opportunity’” and “challenge others in the Nashville event industry to say no to taking money or jobs from the Republican party” until they embrace the gun control that experts agree would have never prevented the shooting in the first place.
“We will not be accepting any of your money,” FLWR replied to the inquiry in a long letter blasting the party’s values. “The blood of the 3 beautiful babies we lost in Nashville is on that money.”
While a lot of Americans would disagree with the shop’s leap of judgment (it was, after all, a mentally-disturbed woman who pulled the trigger on March 27, not a Republican Party operative), the owners are well within their rights to turn down a job on moral grounds. What raises conservatives’ hackles is that Christians, who’ve done likewise with their biblical views, have been hauled into court and punished — in some cases losing their businesses because they dared to refer customers elsewhere.
Barronelle Stutzman, also a florist, fought a nine-year legal battle for the same viewpoint tolerance that’s automatically been extended to Vaughan and Kiesow. The difference? Stutzman is a Bible-believing Christian, who turned down a request to make special arrangements for a same-sex wedding. Was she applauded? On the contrary, she was sued both by the Washington State Attorney General and the longtime customer, who Barronelle had always considered a personal friend. Despite employing LGBT activists and recommending other florists who could help, what followed, she explained in a moving public letter, “were lawsuits filed against me and a concerted effort to either force me to change my religious beliefs or pay a devastating price for believing them including being threatened with the loss of my home, my business, and my life savings.”
Like other Christians in the wedding business, the case ultimately took its toll, and Barronelle decided to walk away from the business she’d spent her entire life building. “I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At age 77, it’s time to retire,” wrote the great-grandmother resignedly.
Meanwhile, baker Jack Phillips, who’s on his third lawsuit despite winning an outright victory at the U.S. Supreme Court, continues to be tortured for his moral views on gender and marriage. The Masterpiece Cakeshop owner has been pulled away from the kitchen — but not the heat — for eight years as a series of supposed customers continue to target him with orders for radical pro-trans and LGBT messages on desserts they know he won’t accept.
Earlier this year, Jack lost another appeal over a request for a gender transition cake, because the court refused to concede that the project violated Phillips’s free speech. “We conclude that creating a pink cake with blue frosting is not inherently expressive and any message or symbolism it provides to an observer would not be attributed to the baker.”
The point is that just as conservatives support FLWR’s right not to do arrangements for the GOP, by the same token, the Left shouldn’t be dragging good people like Stutzman and Phillips to court for the right to exercise that same conscience. Consumers will decide the wisdom of those public positions with their dollars. Just as Bud Light is free to plaster their cans with a living mockery of women and watch their business implode, this Nashville florist is welcome to alienate half of the city’s client base with their absurd indictment of the Republican Party.
Still, there are some sharp contrasts in how the two sides handled these scenarios. For one, neither Jack nor Barronelle publicly shamed or slandered clients of the other political persuasion in retaliation — or openly urged Christians to boycott liberals too. They were considerate and gracious in reply, offering to connect customers with other likeminded vendors or sell them something pre-made. The same could be said of the Kleins and myriad other men and women of faith backed into this same corner.
As Family Research Council’s Joseph Backholm pointed out, “Freedom is a two-way street. If you want to benefit from the right not to do things that you don’t want to do, you need to also extend to others the right not to do things they’d prefer not to do. That’s the argument we’ve been making for more than a decade now, but the Left has been slow to come around.” But at the end of the day, he insisted, “That’s the only way you can preserve freedom for everyone.”
The reality of the First Amendment is that no small business owner should be coerced to violate their conscience or religious beliefs — whether it’s for a table centerpiece or a two-tiered wedding cake. The Left would have you believe the law only protects people who hold the culturally acceptable views of our day. That’s a lie. The U.S. Constitution protects everyone, whether they embrace the preferred ideology of the ruling class or not.
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.