Christians objecting to assisting with homosexual “marriage” ceremonies continue to suffer defeat in various state courts.  The most recent example comes out of New York, where a Christian couple declined to host a homosexual wedding and reception at their farm.  The Christians were declared guilty of unlawful discrimination.

New York boasts that it “has the proud distinction of being the first state in the nation to enact a Human Rights Law, which affords every citizen ‘an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life.’”  The uninitiated might think this is just a modern restatement of the 18th-century idea that all men are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  But this human-rights law is no declaration that requires others merely to refrain from interfering with an individual’s lawful actions.  Instead, it creates positive rights compelling others to provide the individual with some good or service that he believes will contribute to the fullness and productivity of his life.

The statutory framework for the human-rights law declares that the failure to provide goods and services because of “discrimination, prejudice, intolerance, or inadequate education . . . menaces the institutions and foundation of a free and democratic state.”  To protect the state’s very foundation, New York has created the New York State Division of Human Rights.

A focus of this agency is to ensure that access to places of public accommodation is not hindered because of age, race, sexual orientation, and a host of other classifications.  Like so many states, New York broadly defines “place of public accommodation” as almost any location that sells some good or service.

An aggrieved party may file a complaint with the agency, and an administrative-law judge (ALJ) hears the case if probable cause exists.  Probable cause is a very low standard and usually means that circumstances are present that would cause a reasonable person to believe certain facts are probably true.  The ALJ sits without a jury and has the power to order cessation of discriminatory practices, award monetary damages, and levy fines, and to require affirmative action such as attending sensitivity training.  The losing party does have the right to appeal the agency’s decision to the highest court in the county where the discriminatory conduct occurred.

If complainants are not plentiful, the Division of Human Rights can bring its own legal actions and initiate investigations.  When not searching out discrimination, the division is charged by statute to replicate itself on the local level by “promot[ing] the creation of human rights agencies by counties, cities, villages or towns.”

Robert and Cynthia Gifford own and operate Liberty Ridge Farm in Schaghtocke, New York.  There members of the public can purchase produce, pick blueberries and raspberries in season, and get lost in the corn maze when Halloween approaches.  The farm also hosts weddings and receptions, corporate functions, and other events.

In 2012, Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin contacted the Giffords about renting the farm’s wedding and reception spaces for a same-sex “marriage” ceremony.  The Giffords politely declined to participate in the affair because of their Roman Catholic beliefs.  The result was a complaint filed in the State Division of Human Rights, attorney fees, a civil penalty of $10,000, and payment of $3,000 to the lesbians for the “mental anguish” caused by the Giffords’ Christian scruples.

New York has no Religious Freedom Restoration Act requiring that any state regulation which substantially burdens religious freedom be justified by showing that the state act is the least restrictive means of protecting the state’s interest in prohibiting discrimination.  Consequently, there was little real defense the Giffords could offer to the broad statutory language of the human-rights law.  The Giffords sell agricultural commodities to the public and rent space for various events.  They declined to rent their property for a homosexual wedding.  Under the law passed by the New York legislature, Liberty Ridge Farm is a place of public accommodation, and homosexuality is a protected status.

As I noted in the April issue of Chronicles (“Picture a Lesbian Wedding”), overly broad public-accommodation laws enacted in the past half-century pose a far greater danger to the liberty of Christians than do any statutes now on the federal books or being cooked up in Congress.  Unfortunately, the ALJ’s decision against the Giffords is in accord with the statute that the people’s representatives have written into law.  Such state “human-rights laws” are Orwellian and should be repealed or at least modified to take into account the sincerely held beliefs of many Christian business owners.

The truly frightening aspect of “human rights” is the machinery in place to crush nonconformists such as the Giffords.  With the power to levy fines and order offenders to take remedial measures, state human-rights commissions are powerful weapons in the arsenal of a system that is overtly hostile to the Faith that at one time shaped the mores of American society.