Oh, dear—the sky is falling. Christian fundamentalists are painting the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, for which oral arguments are being heard today, as a threat to their religious freedom.
Summary of the case
In 2012, two men went to Masterpiece Cakeshop in Denver. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in Colorado at that time (they were getting married in Massachusetts), but they wanted a cake for their wedding reception. The baker refused. He said that it wasn’t that they were gay—he would have sold them other products—but a wedding cake required his artistic input, and he couldn’t do that because of his Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.
The Christian side of the case
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is the attorney for the baker, and it characterizes the case this way:
When a cake artist declines to design a cake for a Halloween party, the world goes about its business. But if that same cake artist declines a request for a custom cake for a same-sex wedding, he is forced to defend his decision all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
You act like this is surprising. The baker breaks no law (by refusing to serve no protected class of people) when he declines to bake a Halloween cake, but he refuses to serve homosexuals, who are protected by Colorado law, when he declines their wedding cake. When he has a place of public accommodation (like a storefront) in Colorado and refuses to serve someone in a protected class, he breaks the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.
The ADF says, “The government does not have the power to force creative professionals like Jack—or anyone for that matter—to celebrate events that violate their faith.”
You don’t want to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding? Then don’t bake wedding cakes. Problem solved—now your faith is no longer violated. But if you provide public accommodation, which in this case means declaring to the public that you will sell custom wedding cakes, you can’t discriminate against protected classes.
The ADF concludes, “[Baker Jack Phillips] has taken a bold stand for his faith—and for religious freedom for all of us.”
Religious freedom for all of us? We all want to be able to discriminate based on our personal religious beliefs? Sorry, laws trump your religious preferences when they conflict.
But the baker doesn’t just refuse the gays
In its brief to the Supreme Court, the ADF notes that the baker doesn’t just have it in for the gays.
Phillips will not design cakes that celebrate Halloween; express anti-family themes (such as a cake glorifying divorce); contain hateful, vulgar, or profane messages (such as a cake disparaging gays and lesbians); or promote atheism, racism, or indecency.
Ah, it’s nice to see that he didn’t forget the atheists.
But let’s go back to the original Colorado law that was broken. It prohibits denying “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods . . . of a place of public accommodation . . . because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.” And it sounds like Baker Jack might be okay with most of that. He says he would refuse to create a cake with a hateful message or one that promoted racism, but the excuse that he wants for himself would allow a lot of collateral damage. If Jack can say that his religious beliefs forbid him from making a wedding cake that supports a same-sex wedding, another Christian baker can use the same logic to refuse a cake that supports a mixed-race wedding. In fact, if you think the multi-purpose Bible can’t be used to support a case against any of the protected classes listed in that law, including Jews, Muslims, and African-Americans, you haven’t read enough of the Bible. Worse, there’s no need to invent contrary biblical arguments because the logic behind the argument is irrelevant when religious beliefs are simply whatever someone says they are.That needs repeating: the argument for discrimination doesn’t have to make sense to you or to anyone. There is no external, objective logic necessary to ground these demands to discriminate when the justification comes from inside people’s heads.
Note the novel part of this case. The exemption for discrimination isn’t being asked for all businesses, just those that involve “artistic expression.” Artistic expression is speech, and the first amendment protects that as well as religion.
Making a cake is artistic expression, but this claim can apply (potentially) to lots of businesses: florists, nail salons, barbers, tailors, carpenters, plumbers, or destinations for kids’ birthday parties. Maybe even guidance counselors, funeral homes, therapists, or doctors. And once the door is open a bit, other businesses that can’t claim an artistic expression exemption might push for a piece of that sweet, sweet discrimination action.
One response is to say that a business would be fiscally foolish to refuse to serve a class of people, but that’s a weak argument when Masterpiece Cakeshop is already a counterexample. Putting a “We don’t serve your kind here” sign in a window might actually be a plus in some parts of the country. Chick-fil-A, a fast-food restaurant chain, got lots of pushback from its public opposition to same-sex marriage, but it has also gotten support from customers who applauded that action.
Businesses can decide what to sell (so, no, Jewish bakers wouldn’t be forced to sell swastika cakes, Muslim delis wouldn’t be forced to sell alcohol, and newsstands wouldn’t be forced to sell porn), but they can’t decide who to sell it to (with “no shirt, no shoes, no service” kinds of exemptions).
First Amendment rights are important. When the Christian doesn’t have the right to speak freely on religion, I probably don’t, either. But religious freedom doesn’t give you the right to impose your beliefs on others.
For a brief overview, see “Understanding Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission” by Movement Advancement Project.
For a legal analysis of the case, continue to part 2.
Religion is about having faith beyond what you can know or see,
and yet so many use religion to hate and discriminate
those they don’t know or see.
— Sarah Silverman
Image credit: Open to All