When Religious Toleration Goes Out of Style

When Religious Toleration Goes Out of Style December 6, 2017

If you are feeling penitential, you can read the transcript of the Supreme Court oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop trial.  It opens with an exercise in muddled thinking, but there are moments of clarity.  Particularly relevant is the question of how Colorado has treated the question of religious discrimination.  From pp. 98-99 of the transcript:

MS. WAGGONER: . . . I have three brief points in rebuttal: First of all, the bias of the Commission is also evidenced in the unequal treatment of the cake designers, the three other cake designers who were on the squarely opposite sides of this issue. If — if the Court looks at the analysis that was provided by the Colorado court of appeals, line by line they take the opposite approach to Mr. Phillips that they do to those who are unwilling to criticize same-sex marriage

­ JUSTICE GINSBURG: And they say they wouldn’t — they would say no to anyone who came with that request?

MS. WAGGONER: No. The Colorado court of appeals said that they could have an offensiveness policy, and they said that those three cake designers were expressing their own message if they had to design that cake. In Mr. Phillips’s case, they said it wasn’t his message. It’s simply compliance with the law. In the other case, they said that the cake designers, because they served Christian customers in other contexts, that that was evidence it was a distinction based on the message, but in Mr. Phillips’s case, they ruled the opposite way.

Colorado found that if a baker who served Christians generally, but then declined to make a cake with a Biblical message because the baker found the message offensive, that baker was not discriminating.  In contrast, a Christian baker who serves gay clients generally, but declines to accept an order for a specific event the baker finds offensive, does not receive conscience protection.  (And note: The Christian baker in question was willing to sell an off-the-shelf cake to the gay clients.)

This is plain old unfair, as any ten-year-old could tell you.

The aptly-named Satanic Temple’s solution to this conflict sums up the state of civil life in the US right now.  Religious pluralism has been a challenge since the founding of the United States, and our history in that regard is not always so commendable — though it could be much worse.  I am amused when I see the Society of Sisters case cited by people who have no love whatsoever of Catholic education.

The Satanic Temple proposed good old fashioned badgering and intimidation as a response to the conscientious objections of Christian bakers: Go place an order for a Satanic cake and force the baker to bake it.  It sounds like an amusing prank until you think through the consequences. You are saying that a person whose religious sentiment goes against the majority opinion should be bankrupt and put out of work.  That is what is happening in these cases.

Is that religious toleration?

No it is not.

Whether the Supreme Court will be able to discern the obvious, however, remains to be seen.


File:Bacciarelli Allegory of Justice.jpg

Artwork via Wikimedia, Public Domain.


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