Bakery ruling: A win for discrimination or religious liberty?

“I serve everybody, regardless of their sexual orientation or race.”

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips spoke these words to the Denver Catholic after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor June 4 regarding his choice not to write a message about same-sex marriage on a wedding cake because it contradicted his beliefs.

He added, “That day, I told the two gentlemen I would sell them anything in my shop. That was a message that I couldn’t create.”

Amid the great amount of criticism Phillips has received since the court’s ruling, an abounding number of critics have considered him a bigot and compared him to a racist or slave holder.

Yet, Jeremy Tedesco, the baker’s attorney, said that the Supreme Court emphasized that Jack’s case is entirely different from that of discrimination or racism.

“It’s important for people to understand that we faced this argument all the time, in the Supreme Court and in the lower courts,” Tedesco said. “And for the Supreme Court to rule for Jack, despite the fact that the other side was making that comparison [to racism and discrimination] all the time, sends an important message.

“[The Supreme Court] said that tying Jack to racists and slavery is offensive – it’s disparaging of his religious beliefs.”

Court’s decision ‘a benefit for everyone’

The hostility against Phillips’ faith that was present in Colorado’s lower courts led the Supreme Court to rule in his favor, Tedesco said. The decision is meant to protect not just religious believers, but all citizens, from a government that attempts to decide what groups can and cannot exercise their rights, he said.

A great problem for Colorado is that the state’s Civil Rights Division is “playing favorites” when it comes to the one’s right to decline to create something that goes against one’s beliefs, Tedesco stated.

“The government shouldn’t force artists to create art that is inconsistent with their beliefs. The government has no business dictating the content of an artist’s expression,” he added. “That is a freedom that benefits everybody, not just the people who are religious.”

A 2015 precedent influenced the Supreme Court’s decision for Phillips. In a previous case, the Colorado Civil Rights Division ruled in favor of a Denver bakery saying it was not discriminating when refusing to make a cake with an anti-gay message because it had the right to.

“The Supreme Court determined that the unequal treatment was part of the reason why [the previous decision against Jack] violated his free exercise rights. That discriminatory enforcement of the law showed the religious targeting against Jack and the hostility of Colorado,” the attorney pointed out.

In other words, Phillips was expected to accept others’ non-Christian beliefs, but he could not expect others to accept his.

The government shouldn’t force artists to create art that is inconsistent with their beliefs. The government has no business dictating the content of an artist’s expression. That is a freedom that benefits everybody, not just the people who are religious.”

“The court reaffirmed that religious hostility towards people of faith has no place in our society… [and] that people like Jack have honorable beliefs – like the belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman – that deserve tolerance and respect in our society,” he continued.

Is it still discrimination?

The Supreme Court’s decision to treat this case differently from that of discrimination has not stopped the allusions to the argument, especially from much of the media and LGBTQ groups.

In response, Father Angel Perez, Assistant Professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, told the Denver Catholic that a key distinction should be made when analyzing these two cases – mainly the difference between avoiding collaborating in something that is morally wrong versus actually doing something that is morally wrong.

 

“Someone who refuses to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is only trying not to collaborate with an act that he or she believes is morally wrong,” he explained. “But refusing to provide a service to someone [because of their skin color] is not about collaborating in something morally wrong, it’s actually doing something that is morally wrong. Doing so would be saying that the other person is not of the same dignity as others.”

 

This means that choosing not to cooperate in an act one believes is morally wrong does not violate the dignity of the other person, but only disagrees with the act the other person is doing.

“Under this light, the baker’s case is a true case of religious liberty because there is a foundation of truth to that which he believes,” he said. “He has a reasonable explanation for why he believes that act is not morally good. In the case of discrimination, however, a foundation of truth is missing, which means that it’s a direct attack on the equal dignity of all citizens.”

The Church and LGBTQ issues

Father Perez says that just because the Church has reasons to hold that homosexual acts do not reflect the dignity of the human person or the truth of human sexuality, it does not mean that the Church hates or does not accept people who believe or act on these inclinations.

Denver, CO, June 8, 2018: A cake displayed at Masterpiece Cakeshop. (Photo by Aaron Lambert)

“We must remember something very important – that the Church loves homosexuals, she loves people with sexual-identity crises. She loves all sinners like a mother,” he said. “A mother wants the good for her children and because she loves them, she corrects and guides them. The Church loves us, and precisely because she loves us, she shows us the truth – what she knows is best for us.

“That doesn’t mean that she’s exclusive. The doors are open to everyone. In fact, everyone in the Church – including myself – are sinners.”

Yet, love and mercy require truth, he said: “Mercy is only a false compassion if it contains no truth. True mercy brings us out of our misery. Mercy needs the truth to pull us out of our misery, of our sin, and call us to conversion, as Jesus Christ did.”

COMING UP: A caveat on the great Tom Wolfe

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When the great Tom Wolfe died on May 14 — he of the white suits, the spats, and the prose style as exuberant as his wardrobe — I, like millions of others, remembered the many moments of pleasure I had gotten from his work.

My Wolfe-addiction began on a cross-country flight in 1979, shortly after The Right Stuff was published. Always an airplane and space nut, I was fascinated by Wolfe’s re-creation of the culture of America’s test pilots and astronauts at the height of the Cold War. And there was that extraordinarily vivid writing. At one point I burst out laughing, scaring the daylights of the elderly lady sitting next to me but not daring to show her the passage — it must have involved Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club, a saloon outside Edwards Air Force Base — that set me off.

After The Right Stuff got me going on Tom Wolfe, it was impossible to stop. The first half of Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers — Wolfe’s scathing account of a reception thrown for the Black Panthers by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein — remains the quintessential smack-down of political correctness among the 1% cultural elites. From Bauhaus to Our House explains why anyone with an aesthetic sense thinks something is seriously wrong with modernist architecture, and does so in a way that makes you laugh rather than cry.

Then there was Wolfe’s first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities. One of its chapters, “The Masque of the Red Death,” takes its title from Edgar Allan Poe and with mordant humor dissects the vacuity of Manhattanites consumed (and in some cases destroyed) by their grotesque, over-the-top consumerism. I recently re-read that stunning set-piece and the thought occurred, as it had before, that it was a far more effective polemic against materialism than anything ever issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Bonfire was also brilliant in skewering the destructiveness of New York’s race hustlers, the obtuseness of a values-free media, and the fecklessness of too many politicians.

Asked once by monks who run a prestigious prep school what they might do to disabuse parents of the notion that their sons were doomed if they didn’t get into Harvard, Duke, Stanford, and the like, I suggested giving a copy of I Am Charlotte Simmons to the parents of every incoming senior. Wolfe’s fictional tale of life on elite American university campuses in the 21st century is a sometimes-jarring exercise in the social realism practiced (a bit less brutally) by Dickens and Balzac. But Charlotte Simmons, like Wolfe’s other fiction, has a serious moral core and an important cultural message. The young innocent, the brightest girl in town who makes it to an elite university, gets corrupted by stages: and her moral corruption is preceded by intellectual corruption — the class in which she’s taught that there’s really nothing properly called “the truth.”

I do have one post-mortem caveat to register about Tom Wolfe’s oeuvre, which takes me back to The Right Stuff (and while we’re on that subject again, forget the inane movie). The central figure in Wolfe’s tale of aeronautical daring-do is Chuck Yeager, the man who first broke the “sound barrier” in the Bell X-1, and did so with a couple of broken ribs, which he managed in flight with the aid of a sawed-off broom handle. Yeager was an extraordinary figure who never became a national celebrity because of the (absurd) news blackout surrounding the X-1 project, and Wolfe clearly wanted to pay tribute to him as an unsung American hero.

To do so, however, Tom Wolfe seemed to think he needed a foil, and he cast astronaut Gus Grissom in that role: “L’il Gus,” the Hoosier grit lampooned as a bumbler to make Yeager look even better. And that was a grave disservice to the memory of Virgil I. Grissom, who did not mess up the second Mercury space flight (Wolfe’s account notwithstanding), and who gave his life for his country in the launch pad fire that consumed Apollo 1 — which Grissom knew to be a deeply flawed spacecraft and had urged NASA to improve.

So now that Tom Wolfe and Gus Grissom have both crossed what Wolfe once called the Halusian Gulp, I hope these two American patriots are reconciled. Both had the right stuff.