There’s been a minor Internet kerfuffle over some comments iconic actor Patrick Stewart recently made in defense of Christian bakers in Northern Ireland who refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan on it, and who were subsequently fined.
This seems to have caused particular delight in some quarters of the anti-gay marriage crowd since Stewart is a longtime advocate for LGBT rights and equality — not the kind of person you’d expect to resurrect the standard religious persecution narrative.
Declaring Stewart’s stance “courageous,” conservative Christian comedian Steven Crowder, for instance, bemoaned the plight of the bakers:
Apparently, America isn’t the only country where Christians (and only Christians) are being forced to act against religious beliefs to appease liberals.
Obviously, any law (or enforcement of a law) that targeted only believers of one religion would violate all the same sorts of anti-discrimination measures that protect LGBT people. But Crowder is hardly alone in the religious persecution camp. Cortney O’Brien, writing at Townhall.com, declared that Stewart
… has joined a rare club in Hollywood that has dared to speak out in defense of religious freedom. This time, it involves a small bakery in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
So let’s step back and see exactly what Stewart said that made them so happy:
“This is a deliciously difficult subject,” the once-and-future Jean-Luc Picard told the BBC, “because, finally, I found myself on the side of the bakers.”
“It was not because this was a gay couple that this was rejected,” he continued. “It was not because they were going to be celebrating an actual marriage or agreement between them, it was the actual words on the cake that [the bakers] objected to.”
Stewart said that because the bakers found the words on the cake personally offensive, he supported their right to refuse to stencil them on the cake. “I would support their rights to say, ‘No — this is personally offensive to my beliefs, I will not do it.’”
During the interview, I was asked about the Irish bakers who refused to put a message on a cake which supported marriage equality, because of their beliefs. In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights — and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other.
Regardless of what you think about Stewart’s wording, it’s pretty clear that he is not advocating for the right to deny service to gay customers, nor is he saying the bakers should be allowed to not sell certain items to gay customers. He is merely supporting their ability to decide what they will and will not write on cakes. If they find some statement offensive, whatever it is, Stewart believes they are within their rights to object to writing them.
And yet O’Brien, at Townhall.com, seems to miss this entirely, likening the case to the Indiana pizzeria that declared its opposition to selling pizza to a gay couple getting married.
We have had our share of Christian companies here in America being pressured to violate their beliefs as well. You may recall the small business Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, was even forced to close up shop when they received backlash and death threats for voicing their support of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. When The Blaze’s Dana Loesch started a GoFundMe page on their behalf, however, Americans overwhelmingly responded and helped get the business back up and running.
Many conservative Christians have attempted to falsely conflate selling a product (that you already offer) to a gay customer as if it implies your endorsement of same-sex marriage. But Stewart is not defending any such behavior.
That doesn’t mean that Stewart was right. But it also doesn’t mean that the Christian persecution crowd has found a champion for its cause in him, either.