On Tuesday, the Supreme Court is slated to hear oral argument in the famed Masterpiece Cakeshop case. The case is a seminal one for religious liberty. It pits the ability of local and state governments to enforce “anti-discrimination law” against religious practice rights for businessowners; it essentially decides whether or not religious people can practice their religion in their business. This goes to the heart of freedom of religion in the United States.
The case revolves around a man named Jack Phillips. Jack is a baker. He makes and decorates cakes. He has a simple rule: he’ll sell anyone a cake. Gay, straight, transgender, green. Anyone. But he won’t make a custom cake for every event. As a religious Christian, this means that he sees it as sinful participation to make a custom cake celebrating a same-sex wedding. So he’ll make a cake for a same-sex wedding, but he won’t decorate it as such (no groom-groom wedding toppers, for example). He also refuses to make cakes that push anti-gay messages, anti-American messages, and adult-themed messages.
That’s his Constitutional right. But the Leftists at the Colorado Civil Rights Commission didn’t think so. They think that Jack must be forced to violate his own religious beliefs and decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding, or stop making any cakes at all. As a result of their ruling, Jack lost 40% of his business and more than half of his employees — all for abiding by his Biblical beliefs in the most tolerant possible way. He was even told that he had to re-educate employees, including his family members, and report to the government what his artistic decisions were, listing all the cakes he’d failed to bake and why.
This is obviously fascistic stuff. But the LGBT advocacy Left believes that religious freedom is a true threat to LGBT rights — that we all have a right to one another’s services. Thus, Sarah Jones writes in New Republic:
Why should the law obligate a calligrapher or a photographer or baker to take a specific order? But on closer review, the ADF’s argument breaks down. Wedding vendors don’t run ministries. They run businesses that are open to the public. And while business owners do have some legal flexibility over who they do or do not serve, this isn’t a matter of no shoes, no shirt, no service. The action Jack Phillips wants to take is morally equivalent to rejecting a customer because they’re blind or female or black. It doesn’t mean very much if Phillips allows a queer person to buy a birthday cake; the queer person has to hide any public evidence of his queerness in order to receive service. What Phillips wants is for the law to weight his personal beliefs about a person’s intrinsic identity above that person’s right to access a business.
Jones actually hits the nail on the head with this last sentence: the Left wants the government’s ability to compel people to provide service to trump the personal beliefs of individuals. What makes this case so compelling is the religious aspect; we all know religious people with scruples strong enough to withstand the draw of capitalistic enterprise. But this isn’t a religious case at all. It’s a freedom of association and freedom of speech case. Religious practice shouldn’t be bound to the home or church — religious life infuses every aspect of living. But by the same token, an atheist should be free to reject a Christ-themed cake, a Leftist speechwriter should be free to reject a right-wing politician, and The New Republic should be free to refuse to deliver to the Trump White House. Does this mean that people we dislike will be able to act in ways we dislike? Absolutely. But freedom lives in the spaces where we acknowledge that we have no right to another’s labor or approval. Tyranny grows when we refuse to acknowledge those spaces.
If Masterpiece Cakeshop goes the wrong way, the country will only grow more polarized. That’s because religious people across America will be compelled to leave states in which anti-religious anti-discrimination regulations are promulgated, and move instead to red states. Red states will grow redder; blue states will grow bluer. The divide throughout the country will grow. And religious observance — and freedom of speech — will continue to wither on the vine.