The nation’s highest court ruled today in case that had been the centerpiece of a legal and cultural debate over the merits of Religious Freedom and Civil Rights for the Gay Community. It wasn’t a slam-dunk for those who support individual liberty…but it was a solid 15-foot jumper than still counts for two points.
Jack Phillips (pictured, left), owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to custom-design a cake to help celebrate a gay wedding. As a fundamental Christian, he finds same-sex unions immoral and incompatible with scripture. In 2013, he denied an offer to decorate a rainbow-themed cake for a gay couple’s same-sex wedding ceremony. They sued. The Colorado Human Rights Commission agreed and sanctioned Phillips. He appealed to the US Supreme Court. This morning the high court ruled 7-2 in Phillips’ favor. Some news outlets caught grief for initially reporting this as a “narrow” victory. Most quickly corrected their headlines to reflect that “narrow” referred to the scope of the decision, not the margin of the ruling.
This came on the heels of similar cases in other states where Christian business owners had been fined heavily and (in at least one case) forced out of business entirely for refusing to perform a service that they saw as an affront to their religious beliefs.
My glee with today’s ruling is not based on the fact that it is a loss for the gay community. I have absolutely nothing against them. All of the gay people I know are fine folks who simply want to love who they love and spend their lives in peace and quiet. In that respect, they are exactly like me. That having been said, I would hate to have someone violate their religious beliefs because they were forced to offer me a service that I could easily get somewhere else. And I get the feeling that most, if not all, of my gay friends feel the same way. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.
That having been said, I *am* worried about special interest groups being able to use the limitless power of government to force a Muslim to cater a Pig Picking. Or to force a Kosher Deli to provide lunch for a Hitler Youth Rally. I have major issues with the possibility of subpoenas legally compelling an African-American baker to produce a hundred “Burning Cross” cupcakes for a Regional KKK meeting. Extreme examples? You bet. But if the defendant’s position were upheld here, what exactly would have been left to prevent such scenarios?
As to the merits of this case, why did so many on the left compare Phillips to a segregationist? I mean, we KNOW why…to paint him out to be a cartoonishly-evil villain in need of comeuppance. Even some legal scholars equated his refusal to cater a gay wedding with a blanket refusal to do business with an entire class of people. Big difference, though. He did not refuse service. The couple was free to buy anything in the store. Phillips simply refused to bake a custom cake for an EVENT to which he objected. Not to PEOPLE to whom he objected.
Plus, let’s be brutally honest. This was a failed hit job. Phillips was upfront about his religious beliefs. He had attained a certain amount of fame (or infamy) for refusing to bake cakes for a person’s second marriage, since he didn’t believe in divorce. He also refused to make Halloween-themed decorations based on religious objections. In short, Phillips was the perfect patsy for an exploratory sortie by the militant wing of the LGBTQ movement.
I’ve said it before in other groups, but this case (and others like it) are unfortunate intersections where SOMEONE’S rights are going to be compromised. It is unavoidable. Either the baker/florist/photographer has to tangentially participate in an event they feel is an affront to their religious beliefs, or the couple is prevented from engaging in lawful commerce. I see no middle ground.
In those cases, I think you then look at who has the better avenue for relief. The Gay Couple has no shortage of other options for services to be provided for their wedding. The Christian Baker’s only avenue of relief for having their rights compromised is to be fined and punished.
Reading more deeply into the case, one quickly determines this is NOT a sweeping victory for those who oppose the thought of government forcing someone to abandon their religious principles in similar instances. Most of the decision focused on the manner in which a Colorado Commission handled the baker’s complaint. Left legally unresolved is the inevitable conflict between religious belief and anti-discrimination law. In short, it is more a victory for HIM than for all similarly-minded bakers. Suffice to say, the issue is far from settled.
Still, I’ll take even a partial victory for individual liberty. Those are becoming less and less frequent these days.