business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Here we go again.

BuzzFeed reports that the same baker who recently won a Supreme Court case in which he argued that he was not legally required to sell a custom wedding cake to a gay couple - his rationale was that it conflicted with his religious beliefs, which include disapproving of same-sex marriage - is back in court. This time, he is arguing that he is within his rights not to make a birthday cake for a transgender woman, and once again, he is citing religious freedom as his rationale.

The baker, Jack Phillips, is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. His lawyers argued in US District Court on Tuesday that the cake’s design “would have celebrated messages contrary to his religious belief that sex — the status of being male or female — is given by God, is biologically determined, is not determined by perceptions or feelings, and cannot be chosen or changed.”

BuzzFeed notes that the court case stems from a call made to the bakery by Denver lawyer Autumn Scardina. In her complaint, the story says, Scardina wrote:

“They asked what I wanted the cake to look like, and I explained I was celebrating my birthday on July 6, 2017, and that it would also be the 7th year of my transition from male to female. When I explained I am a transexual and that I wanted my birthday cake to celebrate my transition by having a blue exterior and a pink interior, they told me they will not make the cake based on their religious beliefs. The woman on the phone told me they do not make cakes celebrating gender changes … The woman on the phone did not object to my request for a birthday cake until I told her I was celebrating my transition from male to female. I believe other people who request birthday cakes get to select the color and theme of the cake.”

BuzzFeed points out that it is unknown whether Scardina deliberately chose the bakery because of the gay wedding cake case; the 2017 phone call was made roughly a year before the Supreme Court decided that case. (I know how I’d bet on this; it seems highly unlikely that Scardina did not know.)

In addition, the story points out that Phillips won the Supreme Court case on “narrow grounds.” He had been sued by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which the Supreme Court said demonstrated overt hostility to his religious freedom in its original ruling. Legal experts said the Supreme Court decision did not actually consider the broader issue of discrimination vs. religious freedom, though it may eventually have to now under this new case.

BuzzFeed points out that in public comments made in the earlier case, Phillips said he only objected to same-sex weddings, and therefore to same-sex wedding cakes. Now, “Phillips is asking the court to block Colorado from enforcing its nondiscrimination law in this case, foremost because its application violates his First Amendment right to religious exercise. He argues that the nondiscrimination law’s enforcement, which lacks an exemption for religious shopkeepers, fails a legal standard of being generally applicable and neutral — instead, he alleges, the state ‘targets, shows hostility toward, and discriminates’ against people of faith.

“Phillips further argues the state violated his First Amendment right to free speech, which allows him to abstain from speech, such as refusing to make a pro-transgender expression in a cake.”

This is, of course, not just an isolated incident. It is a situation with which many companies and people holding certain beliefs could find themselves, especially in a world that has become vastly more diverse.

My opinion has not changed. I believe in religious freedom, but I do not believe that religious beliefs should be used to justify discrimination and intolerance. (And yes, I recognize that I now will be accused by some of being intolerant of religious freedom. I guess it is inevitable, especially these days, that choices have to be made, or priorities set, between civil rights and religious freedom.)

Where does the line get drawn? What if Phillips’ religious beliefs also opposed mixed-race weddings? Should he be allowed to deny them service? What if he were anti-Jewish? Or anti-Muslim? Can he deny them cakes or cookies of muffins as well?

And what of other people, much in the news lately, who would suggest that their core beliefs include the conviction that certain people - because of their religious beliefs or ethnic backgrounds - are of lesser value than they are? Should they only be allowed to do business with caucasian Christians?

Here’s the deal. If you are a baker, bake and sell cakes. If you don’t approve of gay marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same gender. If you don’t approve of transgender people, then don’t go through gender reassignment.

Providing people with the service that you are in business to provide, or selling people the products that you are in business to sell, is not the same thing as approving of their lives.

Alas, that’s not what everybody believes. And so there will be headlines and news stories and court cases.

Here we go again.
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