“Cakes have a message and this is one I can’t create.” – Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Today Show, June 5, 2018
This week, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips who, in 2012, refused to make a cake to be served at the wedding reception for a same-sex couple.
The Court got it wrong.
Although Colorado law prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodation, the Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ free exercise of religion. The Commission, according to the Court, was biased and demonstrated hostility toward Phillips’ religion. The Court ruled that the Commission had treated Phillips unfairly.
After the ruling, Phillips’ attorney claimed that “Government hostility toward people of faith” was at issue and that “the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage.”
Phillips appeared on national television the day after the decision and flatly denied that he discriminates against anybody. He claimed that he serves everybody who comes into his shop, but said there are certain messages he would not create and occasions for which he will not make cakes (Halloween, for example). He went on to assert “This cake is a specific cake. A wedding cake is an inherently religious event and the cake is definitely a specific message.”
Wait, what? A cake for a wedding reception — a cake with no explicitly requested message at all — holds some special religious significance?
When did wedding cakes become holy relics?
The truth is that Mr. Phillips is and was discriminating. And while I absolutely agree that he cannot be required to make any statement in his work which is contrary to his conscience, a blank cake is not a statement. It’s a dessert.
What if the patrons weren’t obviously the same sex? What if they had simply lied? What if they said the cake was for a relative’s graduation?
I’m having a really hard time wrapping my head around the idea that a baker’s free exercise of religion was in any way infringed by expecting him to sell a cake to anyone who offered to buy one. In fact, I don’t think this case has much at all to do with freedom of religion or freedom of speech.
I think it’s about privilege. The Supreme Court ignored the fact that the same-sex couple was denied the opportunity to buy what would have been sold to anyone else and instead focused on whether the merchant was offended by being expected to treat people equally.
The implications of this case are huge. What happens when “free exercise” involves something more important than a wedding cake? What happens when it concerns women exercising authority over men or even their own bodies? What happens when someone’s sincerely held religious beliefs require them to act in ways that are detrimental to other individuals or to the community in general?
We have a neighbor a few blocks away who has signs all over his vehicle and lawn promoting an extreme anti-abortion/pro-religion viewpoint. This is someone who has very definite religious, political and social beliefs. He apparently has little awareness or concern about the effect of all that signage on property values. Should we assume that he knows or cares about what it means to require a woman to have a child against her will? Is there any regard for HER beliefs? HER life?
There is a difference between belief and action. Believe what you will, because that primarily affects you; it’s what you do that matters.
Somehow a huge number of Americans have come to believe that their righteousness or salvation is tied up with what other people do — that the way to heaven is making other people behave.
Jack Phillips is well within his rights to believe that homosexuality is wrong, sinful, icky or you name it. He was not, in my opinion, within his rights to deny a same-sex couple a cake.
The baker’s beliefs weren’t at issue, his actions were. Putting the blame on a state civil rights commission is a dodge, because Phillips was the oppressor in this case, not the oppressed.
The heart of this case was really very simple and the Supreme Court majority missed it by a mile.