America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. What’s the phrase mean to you?
To me it means every American who is brave enough to follow their dreams and find their own niche in life is free to live as they choose – according to their own principles – as long as they don’t harm others or break the law.
The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to take up a Colorado case in which both sides say their separate constitutional rights were violated. It raises the question: who’s constitutionally guaranteed rights matter most?
Here’s the dispute in a nutshell: In 2012, Charles Craig and David Mullins wanted a special cake to mark their marriage so they visited the Masterpiece Cake Shop in Lakewood, Colorado. The owner, an artistically gifted and religious man named Jack Phillips, politely said, “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, cookies, brownies … I just can’t make a cake for a same-sex wedding.” Doing so, he said, would violate his bible-based beliefs.
The aggrieved couple filed a complaint with the state’s civil rights commission. They argued that Phillip’s slight wasn’t just about a cake. In the words of Mr. Craig, “It is about discrimination. He simply turned us away because of who we are.”
The commission ruled the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law which says businesses may not deny service based on a customer’s race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Phillips was ordered to provide wedding cakes on an “equal basis.” In other words, to any customer who could pay for one.
Then, the Colorado Court of Appeals also ruled against Masterpiece Cakes.
Phillips, who’s been described as a “cake artist” and his shop as an “art gallery of cakes” took a financial hit and simply stopped creating his popular wedding cake creations. And, he appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court believing his constitutional rights of freedom of religion and free speech were as equally important as the couple’s.
As Phillips wrote in an impassioned letter to the Denver Post, “There is no policy at my shop, real or imagined, that says, ‘We don’t sell cakes to homosexuals.’” Phillips said he will sell any cake in his display case to anyone who asks but, “I won’t design a cake that promotes something that conflicts with the Bible’s teachings. And that rule applies to far more than cakes celebrating same-sex marriages. I also won’t use my talents to celebrate Halloween, anti-American or anti-family themes, atheism, racism, or indecency.”
In other words, don’t come to Phillips looking for one of those an anatomically correct gag-gift cakes for a bachelorette party. The man, clearly, has a set of principals he lives by.
It should be noted here that in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage. Even before that, the state of Colorado had passed several laws legalizing and protecting those in same-sex unions. So, the Craig-Mullins couple seems to stand on solid legal ground, right?
But, wait a minute. Don’t laws that protect the couple also punish the sizable portion of the population that tries to live their lives as the bible instructs, those religious citizens whose faith prevents them from embracing birth control, abortion, the death penalty and , yes, same-sex marriage?
“That’s not just my government telling me what I can and can’t do,” Phillips has said. “That’s my government telling me what I can and can’t believe. They’re treading way beyond my cake shop — and deep into my soul.”
I can certainly empathize with a couple who wants to celebrate their happiness with a special dessert and then has their hopes dashed. But I can also sympathize with a hard-working entrepreneur who tries to live a faith-filled life.
As the highest court in the land considers this case of competing constitutional rights it’s a good time for the rest of us to ponder the underlying issues of individual choice, freedom of opinion and the common-sense idea of real and lasting harm done versus a perceived harm.
I know what the law says, but there is a flaw if one person’s constitutional rights are deemed less important than another’s.
I’m thinking there were lots of other bakeries available to the Craig-Mullins couple to get what they wanted. And Mr. Phillips sees only one suitable path in life to walk if he wants to keep his principles intact. It makes me wonder if we will ever reach a point in this country where adversaries amiably agree to disagree and walk away without calling a lawyer.