Freedom of conscience

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.” –Thomas Jefferson
Friday, January 13, 2017

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allied attorneys are involved in numerous legal matters in defense of the freedom of citizens to live according to their faith and conscience without punishment by the government. We are available for media interviews on this important freedom and any of the related legal matters listed below. Members of the media may book an interview through our media contact page. To notify us of a potential legal matter, or if you believe you are in a situation in which your freedom of conscience or religion has been violated, visit our legal help page.

Legal matters

Creative professionals:

  • State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers and Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers: Both the state of Washington and a long-time customer have sued Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, for declining to use her artistic skills to participate in and design custom floral arrangements for the customer’s same-sex ceremony. Stutzman instead referred the customer to one of a large number of other florists in the area who were willing to fill the order.
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: Two men filed a complaint with the state of Colorado after cake artist Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop declined to use his artistic abilities to promote and endorse their same-sex ceremony. The men filed the complaint even though other cake artists were willing to do the job.
  • Hands On Originals v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission: The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission after Kentucky printer Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals declined to print shirts for the GLSO’s Pride Festival because he did not want to promote the message of the event. Adamson instead referred the GLSO to other printers in the area who were willing to fill the order.
  • Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix: A city of Phoenix ordinance forces the two young female owners of Brush & Nib Studio—an art studio that specializes in hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy for weddings and other events—to use their artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies. The ordinance also forbids the studio and its proprietors from publicly expressing their Christian belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman or explaining why they hold to that time-honored view.
  • 303 Creative v. Elenis: A Colorado law forces Lorie Smith and her studio, 303 Creative, to use her artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies if she creates custom websites and graphics celebrating weddings between one man and one woman. The law also forbids her from publicly expressing the religious reasons she declines to do so, including her belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and why she can’t use her artistic talents to promote a same-sex marriage.
  • Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey: A Minnesota law forces Carl and Angel Larsen and their company, Telescope Media Group, to use their filmmaking talents to promote same-sex marriages if they produce films that celebrate marriage between one man and one woman. Minnesota Department of Human Rights officials have repeatedly stated that private businesses such as the Larsens’ violate that law, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, if they decline to create expression promoting same-sex weddings. Penalties for violating the law include payment of a civil penalty to the state; triple compensatory damages; punitive damages of up to $25,000; a criminal penalty of up to $1,000; and even up to 90 days in jail.


  • Cochran v. City of Atlanta: The city of Atlanta, Georgia, suspended its fire chief for 30 days and required him to complete a conformity program after activists who don’t agree with the fire chief’s Christian views complained. After an investigation found Kelvin Cochran’s beliefs did not lead him to discriminate against anyone, the mayor fired him anyway—ironically on the basis of the need to tolerate diverse views.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, acting on the complaint of a former employee of a Michigan funeral home, filed a lawsuit against the Christian-run company for its sex-specific dress code, which requires employees to dress in a manner sensitive to grieving family members and friends. After informing the owner of an intention to begin dressing as a female at work in a role that frequently interacts with mourners, the employee was dismissed for refusing to comply with the dress code.


  • Knapp v. City of Coeur d’Alene: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, officials told Donald Knapp that he and his wife Evelyn, both ordained ministers who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, are required to perform same-sex ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines. The city claimed its “non-discrimination” ordinance required the Knapps to perform such ceremonies now that the courts have overridden Idaho’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
  • Cervelli v. Aloha Bed & Breakfast: Two self-identified lesbians filed a complaint with the state of Hawaii after Phyllis Young declined, because of her religious beliefs about marriage, to allow the women to rent a room and share a bed in her home, just as she had also done when an unmarried female relative requested to share a room with her boyfriend. Young and her husband rent a few rooms in their 2,000-square-foot home under the name “Aloha Bed & Breakfast” to supplement their retirement income.


  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services abortion-pill mandate: The Obama administration implemented a mandate that forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy penalties by the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies if the mandate’s requirements aren’t met.
  • District of Columbia abortion mandate: The District of Columbia Council is forcing pro-life organizations to pay for insurance coverage that covers elective abortions.
  • The Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford v. Rauner: Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law that forces doctors and medical facilities to promote abortion regardless of their ethical or moral views on the practice even though the bill conflicts with federal and state law as well as the federal and state constitutions.
  • Foothill Church v. Rouillard and Skyline Wesleyan Church v. California Department of Managed Health Care: The California Department of Managed Health Care is forcing pro-life organizations, churches, and religious organizations to pay for insurance coverage that covers elective abortions.
  • Stormans v. Wiesman: A pharmacy and two pharmacists are challenging regulations passed by the Washington State Pharmacy Board which mandate that pharmacies must stock and pharmacists must dispense the “morning-after” pill if requested by a customer even when other nearby pharmacies and pharmacists will fill the order.
  • European Federation of Catholic Family Associations (FAFCE) v. Sweden: FAFCE has brought suit against Sweden before the European Committee of Social Rights regarding its failure to protect the conscience rights of medical staff and for not providing enough protection to vulnerable woman from receiving unnecessary abortions.
  • Grimmark v. Landstinget i Jönköpings Län: Three different government-run medical clinics in Sweden denied employment to a midwife because she will not assist with abortions.
  • European Union Equal Treatment Directive: A draft piece of EU legislation that could negatively affect freedom of conscience across all of Europe.

Notable quotes on freedom of conscience

  • “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”  – Thomas Jefferson
  • “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.… Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right.”  – James Madison
  • “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”  – U.S. Supreme Court in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette
  • “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well, especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight’s not on us, and we’re making those daily choices about how to live our lives.”  – Michelle Obama