Civil Rights

Freedom for Christian cake artist is freedom for all, even same-sex marriage backers

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review a critical civil rights case. It involves a cake artist named Jack Phillips who politely declined to create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage because of his Christian beliefs about marriage.

While the case is often described as a battle between religious liberty and gay rights, that framing misses the big picture. The reality is that freedom-lovers of all political stripes and orientations should root for Jack in his struggle against tyranny. A win for him is a win for everyone’s freedom, even those who disagree with him.

{mosads}Jack happily serves everyone, including gays and lesbians. He just cannot create messages that violate his core beliefs. But Colorado argues that it can force Jack to use his artistic talents to create elaborate cakes celebrating same-sex marriage in violation of his religious beliefs.

If supporters of same-sex marriage only consider their stance on Jack’s particular religious beliefs on marriage, it’s clear that they will side with Colorado. But those who focus only on their desired outcome lose sight of the broader principles at stake, and they do so at their own peril.

In deciding Jack’s case, the Supreme Court must decide important questions about what freedoms Jack has under the U.S. Constitution. That reality changes the calculus. For even if you would like Jack to create cakes celebrating same-sex marriage, you must remember that your freedom and Jack’s are tied together.

If the Supreme Court says that Jack has the freedom to not promote messages and events that violate his beliefs, that freedom extends to you. But if the Supreme Court concludes that the government can coerce Jack to use his talents to express messages that violate his core beliefs, that leaves you in the danger zone. What if the winds of change turn against your values? What if the local government in your area frowns on your beliefs? What will protect you then?

The Charlotte Pride Parade may be about to witness firsthand how critical it is for the Supreme Court to defend freedom, even when it leads to unpopular results. News reports indicate that a pro-Trump/pro-gay group is threatening to sue the Pride Parade for discrimination because it refused to let the group have a float. But the Pride Parade explained that it “reserves the right to decline…organizations which do not reflect the mission, vision and values of our organization….” Sounds familiar. Like Jack, the parade does not want to promote messages that conflict with its values.

Fortunately for the Charlotte Pride Parade, a 1995 Supreme Court case upheld fundamental freedoms instead of giving some LGBT activists the short-sighted “victory” they had sought. The court ruled that an anti-discrimination law could not be used to force organizers of a St. Patrick’s Day parade to allow a gay, lesbian and bisexual group to march in the organization’s parade. The reason was simple. Anti-discrimination laws cannot violate “the fundamental rule of protection under the First Amendment, that a speaker has the autonomy to choose the content of his own message.”

If the Charlotte Pride Parade is sued for discrimination, this 1995 decision should be a lifesaver. But that is only true because the Supreme Court ruled for freedom in 1995, much to the disappointment of some LGBT activists at the time who wanted a different outcome.

That brings us back to Jack’s case. Many don’t appreciate Jack’s beliefs or his decision to not create wedding cakes that celebrate same-sex marriage. But everyone should put aside their feelings about Jack’s decision and defend his right — and their right —to decide what messages to convey. As the couple who asked Jack to create a wedding cake quickly discovered, plenty of people are happy to create and sell cakes celebrating same-sex marriage. Freedom is not so easy to purchase.

The Supreme Court will decide whether to uphold Jack’s freedom “to choose the content of his own message” as it did for the parade organizers in 1995, or whether to destroy that freedom because some do not like how it is used. In this critical case, everyone should support Jack’s claim to freedom if for no other reason than to preserve their own. A win for Jack today may be your lifesaver tomorrow.

Samuel Green is legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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