What are the limits of religious freedom?
Robert and Cynthia Gifford found out the hard way following a 2016 New York Appellate Court verdict regarding the couple’s decision to deny hosting a lesbian wedding on their property, citing their Christian beliefs as the reason. The lesbian couple sued the Giffords and the legal battle lasted for three and a half years, according to Faithwire.com.
“The Giffords are free to adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry, but they must permit same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so,” said Judge Karen Peters in her decision.
The legal battle may be over, and the $13,000 in fines may be paid, but Liberty Ridge Farm has not given up on their Christian values. The Giffords have made it known on their website that “All couples legally permitted to marry in the state of New York are welcome to hold their wedding at Liberty Ridge Farm.”
However, the website also reads:
“At Liberty Ridge Farm, our deeply held religious belief is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and the Farm is operated with the purpose of strengthening and promoting marriage. In furtherance of this purpose and to honor and promote our moral and religious beliefs, we donate a portion of our business proceeds to organizations that promote strong marriages such as the Family Research Council.”
Robert and Cynthia Gifford may not have the right to decide who they provide their services to, but by donating profits to organizations like the Family Research Council, the couple puts a weighty decision back on those who are looking for a wedding venue.
I believe that this is a viable option for businesses that are in this situation or may be put in this situation. Because these businesses are being forced to set aside their moral values, they put a similar pressure on their potential clients. This is the best option that Liberty Ridge Farm had, considering the circumstances.
“The court should have rejected this unwarranted and unconstitutional government intrusion, so we will consult with our client regarding appeal,” said Caleb Dalton of the Alliance Defending Freedom Counsel, who represented the Giffords.
However, after going through the appeals process, which upheld the original decision on the case, Liberty Ridge Farm decided to donate some of their profits to organizations which support their religious beliefs.
Regardless of your stance on same-sex marriage, we can all agree that Judge Peters’ ruling on the case is, at the very least, logical. Because same-sex marriage was made legal in New York in 2011, and federally in 2015, Judge Peters was forced to look at each kind of marriage equally. This means that neither same-sex nor opposite-sex marriages should get special treatment, and that applied to the places at which these ceremonies were held.
The verdict does, however, allow the Giffords to “adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry.” This gives the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm the opportunity to continue making their stance on the issue known as well as donating money to institutions that align with their viewpoint.
This case shows us that when the government implements laws that contradict the instructions that God has given us, there are always ways to fall in line with both commands. The Giffords are forced to provide services for ceremonies which they disagree with because of the law of the land, but they found a way to follow what the Bible outlines by openly promoting their beliefs and donating money to organizations that share them.
There will always be a struggle between those who hold traditional Christian values and those who believe those values are outdated, but the Liberty Ridge Farm model is a reasonable way to compromise in this situation.