Todd Starnes, Conservative columnist and commentator on Fox News, has warned that religious liberty is quickly disintegrating in the United States and urged the Christian media to fight for the truth by sharing the stories of those persecuted for their faith.
During the National Religious Broadcasters' annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Starnes, the host of "Fox News and Commentary," moderated a panel of Christian business owners who came under fire after refusing to provide service to customers because of their religious beliefs.
"Engage the culture and stay informed and educate your listeners and viewers, the people that are also reading your work on digital platforms. It is just incredibly important," Starnes said. "One day it might be somebody in your church. It might be somebody in your neighborhood. It might be somebody whose kid plays on your little league team. It might be you."
The panel, titled "Losing the Freedom to Believe," included a Christian T-shirt maker, a florist, a pharmacy owner, and Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom -- the organization representing all three individuals.
Audiences first heard from Greg Stormans, owner of Ralph's Thriftway in Washington, a 70-year-old family business that has provided jobs to four generations of his family. When the pharmacy refused to offer Plan B medications, an abortifacient drug, they found themselves embroiled in a 10-year lawsuit that is still ongoing.
The Stormans now have an injunction against the enforcement of the law, but they lost their case at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and are waiting to hear if the Supreme Court will hear their appeal.
"There are a lot of courts," said Stormans. "There's a court of public opinion, a U.S. district court, the Ninth Circuit Court-they've all weighed in. And maybe the Supreme Court will weigh in, but in God's court with Him as judge is where we really want to win our case."
Kentucky T-shirt shop owner Blaine Adamson then shared his story, revealing that he was sued by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization (GSLO) of Lexington after he refused to print t-shirts bearing the message "Lexington Pride Festival 5" in 2012, saying this violated his Christian faith. As a result, Adamson lost his business and is facing a number of lawsuits.
"God hasn't changed, and I guess that's really my perspective. He calls us in his word. He promises one thing, not that we like to talk about it, but we'll suffer for his namesake," Adamson said when asked if he would do things differently. "The word hasn't changed so I can't change on my position."
70-year-old Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers in Richland, Washington, then shared the heartbreaking story of how she was sued by a longtime customer after she refused to design custom floral arrangements for a long-time customer's same-sex ceremony.
She told audiences that rather than participate in the ceremony, she referred the customer, whom she considers a friend and had served for nearly 10 years, to several other florists in the area who would provide high-quality arrangements and wedding support. Nevertheless, Stutzman was sued by the ACLU and the state of Washington.
She explained that her decision had nothing to do with any hatred toward the LGBT community, as she has, in the past, hired homosexual staff and served many homosexual customers. Rather, she took issue with providing service to a same-sex "wedding" ceremony because she said she felt that "would not honor Christ."
Stutzman, a mother of 8 and grandmother of 23, revealed that state attorney general's office offered to drop the case against her if she would just agree to serve same-sex wedding ceremonies. However, she said she will continue fighting for religious freedom and choose to obey God rather than man.
"We need to stand up now," she exhorted the audience. "It's me today but it'll be you tomorrow. When our children ask us why we don't have a free America anymore, we'll have to say we did nothing...I encourage you to vote, get involved with your local government. Don't sit quietly and say, 'So sorry this is happening to you,' because it could be you tomorrow."
Waggoner told audiences that such cases are becoming increasingly common across the United States and should greatly concern those who value religious freedom.
"Civil liberties travel together," she said. "If you're concerned about press, if you're concerned about the economy or the free enterprise system, all of those things will erode if we lose the freedom of conscience here."
She added, "There isn't a day that goes by at Alliance Defending Freedom where we don't get many calls that have to do with someone who is being forced to choose between their conscience and their business or their profession, their vocation, their license."