What does a wedding cake have to do with free speech and the freedom of religion?
It sounds like the precursor to a silly punchline, but a Supreme Court case involving a wedding cake could have serious ramifications on the First Amendment.
Jack Phillips, a devout Christian, declined to create a custom cake for a gay marriage between Charlie Craig and David Mullins. Craig and Mullins filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, who found in favor of the gay couple. Phillips appealed the decision, and now Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission sits in front of the high court.
Supporters of Craig and Mullins have urged Christian bakers like Phillips to just “bake the damn cake,” but the case raises a chief question about the tension between anti-discrimination laws and the rights to free expression and freedom of religion.
Sexual orientation is often included as a protected class in non-discrimination laws, so the surface answer here is that Phillips should be punished for refusing to serve a gay couple.
But Phillips did not refuse to serve the couple–he only refused to make a custom cake for the wedding. He even offered the couple a pre-made cake that he had on display. In fact, Phillips said he often serves other types of cakes to gay couples, and has also previously declined to make cakes with anti-gay messages or cakes promoting Halloween.
So the correct framing of this case is not that Phillips discriminated against a gay couple. He didn’t refuse to serve them the cake because they are gay. He declined to serve him the cake because the message they wanted him to convey–support of a same-sex marriage–was at odds with his religious sensibilities.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the Obergefell case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote opposition to same-sex marriage is held “in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.”
Roberts continued, “many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”
As The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson explains, the Supreme Court indicated in that decision that opposition to same-sex marriage is not a discriminatory position. Many Americans oppose same-sex marriage, not because they are discriminatory bigots, but because they have sincere faith-based reasons for doing so.
If Phillips were compelled to make the cake, the government would be discriminating against his religious beliefs under the guise of “non-discrimination.” The Court must recognize that Phillips is not an anti-gay bigot, but a Christian with a sincere desire to honor God with his bakery creations.