Fake accusation – a pernicious cousin of “fake news” – loomed large in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case from the beginning. And, sadly, gross mischaracterization of the Christian baker’s actions persist even now that he has been vindicated by the Supreme Court.
It is important, of course, to understand what the court decided (Colorado violated Jack’s right to freely exercise his religion) and why (because the state demonstrated blatant hostility toward Jack’s faith). But for purposes of the broader discussions that will continue to arise when people of faith reject the culture’s new orthodoxy, it may be even more critical for us to distinguish and expose fake accusations of bigotry and hatred.
Recall that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and lower courts ruled that baker Jack Phillips violated the state’s public accommodations law by refusing to bake a cake celebrating the same-sex marriage of Charlie Craig and David Mullins. The state law precludes businesses from discriminating against customers based upon sexual orientation as well as race, religion and creed.
It was disappointing, although not at all surprising, that many who sided with Craig and Mullins claimed the case was about Jack’s refusal to serve gay people. A Washington Post editorial compared his actions to picking and choosing customers based on race. In their own statement about the ruling, Craig and Mullins said, “We have always believed that in America, you should not be turned away from a business because of who you are.”
Statements like this reflect a strategy of intellectual dishonesty that, unfortunately, the left has used with wild success in recent years. It goes like this: express a shared, sacred value, then claim that it is violated by a law or practice you don’t like. Voila: instant public support for your cause. In this case, Craig and Mullins are tapping into our collective shame over the time when blacks were turned away from lunch counters solely because they were black.
But this is nothing like what actually happened with Jack, Craig and Mullins inside Masterpiece Cakeshop. According to the record in the case, Jack told the couple, “I’ll make your birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same sex weddings.”
There was no “refusal to serve” Craig and Mullins because of their sexual orientation. There was only a baker’s kindly explained refusal to apply his talents to assist in the celebration of a particular act his faith condemns.
While the Colorado Civil Rights Commission gave no quarter to Jack’s sincerely held religious beliefs, it supported three other bakers who refused to create cakes denigrating same-sex marriage because they found that idea offensive. This fact proved to be pivotal to the Supreme Court, and in the various concurring opinions and the dissent, several justices devoted considerable ink to discussing these other bakers.
Justices Kagan and Breyer agreed that the state had violated Jack’s Free Exercise rights by demonstrating such blatant disrespect for his faith. But they suggested that it could have distinguished between Jack and the other bakers. They posited that the other bakers would have refused to create the requested cakes for any customer, because their objection was based on the message the cakes promoted. Jack’s refusal was different, they said, because he bakes wedding cakes for heterosexual couples and refuses to bake them only for same-sex couples.
As Justices Gorsuch and Alito pointed out in their concurrence, however, “In both cases, it was the kind of cake, not the kind of customer, that mattered to the bakers.” Jack would have refused to create a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding even if the customers requesting it had been heterosexual friends of the newlyweds.
Like the proverbial little boy who cried “wolf,” the left has lost its credibility in accusing Christians of “bigotry” and “hatred.” Or perhaps they simply don’t understand the meaning of those terms. We need to remind them that in a free society, it is both possible and necessary to love people and treat them fairly while respectfully disagreeing with their choices, lifestyles, or beliefs. In a free society, we give people – even bakers – the space to do so.
The Christian and non-Christian baker alike must be free to refuse to lend their talents to the celebration of actions or ideas that violate their consciences. Neither can rightly be characterized as acting out of bigotry or hatred toward the customer. Both are shining examples of free people living with integrity.