The eyes of the nation were on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case today at the Supreme Court, and for good reason.
The argument wasn’t just about Jack Phillips and his refusal to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Today’s hearing was about our freedom to practice our faith without interference from the government. And make no mistake – the outcome of today’s proceedings will impact every American – those with religious faith and even those with no faith at all.
Jack Phillips is a reluctant litigant. He didn’t ask for this fight, but neither is he shying away from it. In pursuing his deeply held Christian convictions, Jack has incurred troubles of many kind, including a drastic forty percent reduction in his income. That’s because the only way he could remain open as a business and not violate his conscience was to stop making cakes of any kind.
To put it bluntly, Jack is being monetarily penalized for his piety. But he’s also being mocked and maligned for his religious convictions. A commissioner from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called his religious defense “despicable” and compared him both to the perpetrators of the Holocaust and slave-owners.
Non-discrimination laws are important, of course, as is the dignity of LGBT-identified people. But so is the freedom of religious people, and/or any conscientious dissenter to a government-imposed politically-correct belief, to live in accordance with their deepest convictions. The beauty of our constitutionally guaranteed rights of speech and religion (and conscience is a big component of each) is that they protect minority views. It’s always wise to remember a majority today can find itself in the minority tomorrow.
Allowing a limited exemption for conscience reasons respects the rights and dignity of all. Phillips will gladly sell any product in his bakery to the couple who asked him to custom design a wedding cake, but he drew a line at being asked to use his artistic expression to promote a message that his conscience would not allow.
From my perspective there is a simple solution here. It is better not to stick your finger in the other person’s eye, but out of respect, find another baker. That is what many in the Christian community are choosing to do. For example, a friend of mine recently tried to hire a photographer for family pictures. When the individual learned of his support for one-man, one-woman marriage, the photographer declined the job. Did my friend file a lawsuit? No. He found someone else to take their pictures.
As today’s argument demonstrated, Jack’s opposition isn’t about discriminating against anyone. It’s all about the message. If we can just appreciate the distinction between the person and message, then I believe we can resolve an issue which has unnecessarily created a zero-sum, ‘I win so you must lose’ mindset. The polarization is painful and counterproductive.
For those who disagree with me about the nature of marriage, I believe you can still support same-sex marriage as well as the conscience rights of people like Phillips. Gay or straight, believer or atheist, meat-eater or vegetarian, if we cannot learn to live with and respect each other’s points of view on controversial issues, we are headed for a train wreck. By attempting to impose one government-approved point of view in the public square upon pain of losing your livelihood if you disagree, are we forgetting about the true meaning of diversity?
I believe the outcome of today’s case will have profound ramifications for our nation’s future and freedom. But regardless of the judges’ eventual decision, I hope that as neighbors and people of good will we can all work together to achieve what a court case can never provide: a sense of community and respect for one another as we navigate these tough issues together.