An Important Decision, and the Right One

In an important decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Colorado violated Jack Phillip’s religious liberty when they attempted to force him to make a custom cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

Phillips is only one of several business owners who have suffered significant repercussions as they attempt to live their faith as business persons since even before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage (an interesting fact is that some of these business persons have been penalized by their state for refusing to service same-sex weddings even before their state itself recognized same-sex marriage as legal).

It’s difficult to get an honest take on some of these stories, because those who tell them are invested in their outcomes. In Phillip’s case, for instance, it isn’t true that he refused to serve David Mullins and Charlie Craig, or that he refused to sell them a cake. Phillips offered to sell them any one of a number of pre-manufactured cakes in his store. But, Mullins and Craig wanted a custom-made cake, which would require the investment of Phillips’ creative skills. Being a Christian committed to the Christian definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, Phillips refused. Phillips has also refused to use his creative talents to create other custom-made cakes for such events as Halloween and to mark a person’s divorce, or to make custom-made cakes that include alcohol, all because of his devotion to his faith.

It’s simply ludicrous to claim that a person who has spent his or her lifetime honing their special creative skills and opens a business to profit from those skills should be required by law to then use those skills to create works of art that reflect values contrary to their religious faith or personal conscience. The fact that same-sex marriage is supported by a majority of citizens is beside the point. There are creative skills people possess and around which they’ve built livelihoods. These creative skills ought to be a source of work and honor for them, not something that chains them to the values and priorities of others simply because they’re willing to pay for them.

Some people can play the violin and have done so for weddings, receiving a small stipend in appreciation for their service. Are they now required to play for any and all occasions because someone offers to pay them? Orthodox Jewish butchers have skills in preparing meat. Because orthodox Jews pay them for their services, are they required to prepare non-kosher meats for any and everyone? Are actors required to use their skills for propaganda, or film directors required to use their skills for pornography, because pornography is legal and someone is willing and able to pay them? I remember back in Memphis I once met a young artisan who worked at a foundry. A man wanted a gate made, but he insisted that the young foundryman create a gate according to the design the man had brought in. The foundryman refused. If he was going to be commissioned to make a gate, then he insisted on creating the design. Was he wrong in refusing the commission?

If Phillips is required to use his skills to create a custom-made cake commissioned for any and every reason, artisans would be captive to the whims of any and everyone who had the money to purchase their skills. Some of those persons would not be commissioning work that the majority of Americans support. Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the same Colorado commission that penalized Phillips for refusing to use his skills to service a same-sex wedding, “concluded on at least three occasions that a baker acted lawfully in declining to create cakes with decorations that demeaned gay persons or gay marriages.” What legal mumbo-jumbo allows one artisan to refuse to use his skills to service the cause of opposition to same-sex marriage, but penalizes another for refusing to use his skills in the service of same-sex marriage?

Jack Phillips was represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the same ADF that is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I doubt this recent case will inspire the SPLC to reconsider their designation of the ADF.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.


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