This article is the first in a multi-part series highlighting the annual National Religious Broadcasters International Christian Media Convention (NRB 2023) held recently in Orlando, Florida.
Thousands of attendees recently gathered at NRB 2023, “the world’s largest gathering of Christian communicators and ministry professionals.”
The nonprofit Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), one of the sponsors of the convention, held a panel titled, “Freedom in the Balance: Will Americans Remain Free to Say What They Believe?”
The panel – moderated by an ADF attorney – included three Christian individuals who are currently engaged in lawsuits to protect their religious freedom and free speech rights. All three individuals have had leftist individuals and government organizations express extreme hostility towards them due to their religious convictions.
Panelists included Emilee Carpenter, a photographer, blogger and owner of Emilee Carpenter Photography; Lorie Smith, a graphic artist and owner of 303 Creative; and Jack Phillips, a cake artist and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop.
Phillips has been engaged in three lawsuits since 2012 involving his right to create custom wedding cakes that only express messages that are consistent with his faith.
If you’re not familiar with Jack’s long legal journey, you can read more about it in the Daily Citizen here.
Jack has faced hostility towards his faith on numerous fronts. He has received death threats, hateful phone calls and the loss of over half of his business. He’s also lost six of his 10 employees. In one particularly disturbing instance, a man called Jack’s shop and informed him that he was driving to Jack’s shop to kill him.
Jack quickly called the police, and to this day, he doesn’t know whether the call was fake, or whether the man truly was driving to his shop only to be dissuaded by the presence of local police.
Additionally, when the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) first ruled against Jack and his free speech rights, it mandated that he and his employees undergo “reeducation.”
Jack’s employees included multiple of his family members, including his 88-year-old mother. After he informed them of the CCRC’s ruling, Jack’s mother told him matter-of-factly, “Just to let you know, I will not be reeducated.”
Hateful phone calls. Death threats. State-mandated reeducation. This is the cost of faith in modern America. And it’s a price that Jack says he is willing to pay.
Lorie Smith also spoke about her case that is currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. In her case, the state of Colorado prohibits her from creating custom artwork for traditional marriages if she refuses to do the same for “same-sex weddings.”
Though she used to be a supporter of same-sex marriage, Lorie changed her mind after becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. She said, “As I have seen my Savior’s design for marriage … my views have changed completely. And I want to design and create messages that celebrate God’s view for marriage.”
Lorie decided to challenge Colorado’s discriminatory law with the help of ADF. “[But] within moments of filing [the lawsuit], I received a wave of hatred,” Lorie shared. She added,
That first day, I received death threats, voicemails, messages on social media threatening me with physical harm and rape.
The day of her filing, while her husband was away, her neighbors placed her address on social media. Lorie, then a mother of a four-year-old, said that day, “I was concerned for my life.” Lorie worried that every car that passed by may be someone intending to carry out one of the threats that she had received.
“I slept on the floor that night and just covered my daughter and was praying for God’s protection,” Lorie said.
Hateful phone calls. Death threats. Threatening voicemails. This is the cost of faith in modern America.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule in Lorie’s case anytime this month. You can read more about her case here.
Additionally, Emilee Carpenter talked about the state-sanctioned threats she has received due to her decision to operate her photography business in accordance with her faith.
Emilee operates her business in New York – and mainly wants to do wedding photography. She faces a $100,000 fine, the loss of her business license and even up to one year in jail if she refuses to photograph a same-sex wedding if she is otherwise willing to photograph a marriage between a man and a woman.
That’s right, in modern America, Emilee could land in jail because of her faith.
You can read more about Emilee’s case here. It is currently being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
All three of these individuals, Jack Phillips, Lorie Smith and Emilee Carpenter, are facing multiple personal threats because of their faith. They refuse to violate their conscience and acquiesce to leftist demands and intolerance of their religious beliefs.
It’s sad and shocking that in a nation founded on the free exercise of religion enshrined in the First Amendment, individuals face dire personal harm for standing up for what they believe. And yet, that’s where our culture currently is.
Please keep these three individuals in your prayers. Let’s hope and pray that their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs will soon be vindicated.
Jack Phillips has been interviewed on the Focus on the Family Broadcast to discuss his legal fight, and how his Christian faith has sustained him. To listen to “Loving Others While Standing by My Beliefs” with Jack Phillips, click here.
Additionally, you can purchase a copy of Jack’s book, The Cost of My Faith: How a Decision in My Cake Shop Took Me to the Supreme Court, here.
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