December 6, 2017

Bake a Cake Case

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that emerged after a baker was found in violation of state anti-discrimination laws for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex couple. Defenders of the baker claim he should have free expression rights to what he bakes and therefore can reject people based on his religious beliefs. Or, at least that's how they often frame the case. Yet, they're being hypocritical - even in oral arguments.

A key task for the justices is to find where to draw the line when claims to different rights (like anti-discrimination and religious liberty) appear to be in tension. So, they asked the attorneys in the case about a number of hypothetical cases, like if the baker wins should that right to refusal also be given to photographers, florists, makeup artists, architects and others. In that vein, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan pressed the attorney for the baker about if a baker should be allowed to refuse to make a cake for an interracial couple.

"Very different case in that context," the attorney responded as she explained why a baker in the hypothetical case shouldn't be allowed to refuse to serve an interracial couple.

And that's where the argument that this is a religious liberty claim falls apart. 

If we insist that a baker has the religious liberty right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding reception, then we must also grant that same right of refusal for any marriage to which a baker objects. Otherwise, we are allowing the government to pick winners and losers among religious beliefs - and that is unconstitutional! We cannot say that religious objections to same-sex marriages are legitimate while also saying that religious objections to interracial marriages (or interfaith marriages or remarriages) are not legitimate.

The hypocritical standard employed by the baker's attorney shows why he should lose this case (as lower courts ruled). The baker is not advancing true religious liberty. Instead, the baker demands the right to discriminate in the public marketplace - a right that racists unsuccessfully fought for a half century ago as they attempted to keep their businesses segregated.

If we care about religious liberty for all, we should worry about the baker winning. That's why the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a group that represents 15 Baptist bodies across the nation, filed a brief along with other religious groups to support Colorado and the same-sex couple. Amanda Tyler, the BJC's Executive Director, announced the filing of the brief during a breakfast event in October hosted by Churchnet (where I serve as Associate Director).


The BJC's brief notes that if the baker wins, "Religious liberty itself would suffer, as religious individuals would be subject to being denied service because the commercial proprietor's religious views differed from theirs."

"Public accommodations laws like Colorado’s generally promote religious liberty, by protecting individuals from discrimination on account of their religion," the brief adds. "Such laws also promote human dignity, which is itself a religious value, by ensuring that all individuals can access the commercial marketplace on an equal basis."

Hopefully the justices on the Supreme Court will bring a ruling that promotes both anti-discrimination laws and religious liberty for all.

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