Bakery ruling: A win for discrimination or religious liberty?

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“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: Machebeuf basketball star traded success playing hoops for a solitary life of prayer

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Shelly Pennefather led the Bishop Machebeuf High School girls’ basketball team to victory in every game she played in. It was not surprising to her friends and classmates that she would go on to play college ball for Villanova and then play professionally in Japan. It was not even surprising that she would have a religious vocation.

What was surprising was the order she chose. In 1991, Shelly Pennefather drove to Alexandria, Va., where she entered the Monastery of the Poor Clares. She would become a cloistered nun, living a radical life that included going barefoot out of penance and poverty and praying all of the hours of the Divine Office, even at 12:30 a.m.

This also meant she would not see her family except for twice a year from behind a transparent screen. She would not hug them until 25 years after her profession.

“I was shocked that she chose a cloistered order,” said Annie Mcbournie, graduate of Machebeuf in 1984 and a friend of Pennefather’s. “I was not at all shocked that she chose a vocation.”

Her story was recently featured on ESPN, who recounted how Pennefather gave up being the highest-paid women’s basketball player in the world in 1991 to live a life in service to the Lord as a Poor Clare.

Pennefather took the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. This past June, Sister Rose Marie celebrated her 25th anniversary of her solemn profession: the long-awaited moment to greet her family from outside the screen, not to happen again for another 25 years.

Villanova teammates, friends, Machebeuf classmates, and family were all in attendance. She hugged her 78-year-old mom for what will probably be the last time.

Mcbournie was not able to make it but will visit Sister Rose Marie this fall. Since she’s kept up with her via letters, she is permitted to visit the monastery.

Pennefather attended Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver from 1980 to 1983 before transferring for her senior year due to her dad’s military job. She left Machebeuf with a 70-0 record.

“Her entire high school career, she never lost a basketball game,” Mcbournie said.

Mcbournie was a cheerleader and friend of Sister Rose Marie in high school, but a deeper friendship began 10 years after graduation. Sister Rose Marie’s brother Dick called Mcbournie before World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 since Mcbournie was still in the area.

Sister Rose Marie had just joined the Poor Clares and Dick and McBournie met up and spoke about the mourning process the family was going through, McBournie said. Dick mentioned to her that they could write Sister Rose Marie as many letters as they wanted, and one day a year, on the Feast of the Epiphany, she could write back.

Shelly Pennefather, pictured here in this photo from the Archdiocese of Denver archives, always exuded a deep spiritual life, her former Bishop Machebeuf classmates said. (Photo by James Baca)

“From that year on, I have been writing her every year,” McBournie said. She gives Sister Rose Marie updates on life, pictures from their high school reunions, and prayer requests.

“I have witnessed her journey through these letters,” McBournie said.

When Sister Rose Marie’s dad passed away shortly after entering, she was not able to leave the monastery to go to the funeral. McBournie saw how difficult these sacrifices were for her, especially in the early years of her vocation. But the letters show Sister Rose Marie’s joy.

“The last 5 to 10 years, I could just see her say, ‘I’m so blessed to be able to do this’,” McBournie said. “She’s so joyful.”

A fellow Machebeuf classmate asked McBournie for Sister Rose Marie’s address in order to have a little fun. He sent her a $20 bill with a note saying he thought she could use a smoke and a bottle of wine.

Sister Rose Marie did not miss a beat and in her yearly letter, she responded, “I bought incense, and I drank from the chalice,” McBournie recounted.

Shelly Pennefather (#15) had a 70-0 record playing basketball for Bishop Machebeuf in the 1980s, and went on to play for Villanova and then professionally in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

But this letter sparked a friendship. This classmate has continued to write letters and even attended the 25-anniversary jubilee.

“Her letters are still hilarious, still very sarcastic,” McBournie said.

She remembers Sister Rose Marie being reserved and quiet in high school, focused more on school and basketball than anything else. Her father was in the military and the family was very disciplined, but they had a good sense of humor and quick wit, McBournie said.
“Her spirituality permeated her existence from the time she was young,” McBournie said.

David Dominguez was a few years ahead of Sister Rose Marie at Machebeuf but remembers her discipline and her talent. He called himself her cheerleader.’

“If it was really tight, we would start yelling, ‘Shelly, Shelly!’” Dominguez said. “It was one of my favorite cheers.”

Dominguez exercised at the Air Force base gym where Sister Rose Marie would train and play basketball with her dad and brother.

“I knew she had incredible skills,” Dominguez said. “It was kind of magical to watch.”

Sister Rose Marie recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her profession of vows with the Poor Clares. She was able to hug her friends and family for the first time in 25 years. ESPN was there to cover the occasion. (Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Bonacci)

Dominguez also knew she was different.

“She was living for a different purpose than everyone else,” he said.

Sister Rose Marie’s devotion and personality remain the same, though she has traded in her jersey for a habit.
Although Sister Rose Marie can only write one letter a year, and can seldom have visitors, her friendship and influence reach far beyond the monastery walls.

Mcbournie said that their yearly letters have brought them even closer than they were in high school.

“I look forward to her letter every year,” Mcbournie said.