"Let them eat cake?" - Part II
June 17, 2018
Several months ago, I wrote about a case then wending its way up to the Supreme Court: the 2012 case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips who refused to make a cake explicitly supporting a homosexual couple’s “wedding.” (This was before the Supreme Court invented, by a 5-4 vote, a fake right to “same sex marriage” in their Obergefell decision). It should be noted that Mr. Phillips clearly communicated to the couple that he would be willing to sell them any of his other products, but not one supporting a kind of “marriage” that he opposed because of his Christian faith. His conscience would simply not allow him to express support by the act of creating a cake with this message. Further, he was at no point rude or hostile to them. He simply told them he could not do it.
By contrast, the hatred, vitriol, and venomous reaction by the couple against Mr. Phillips (and many of the couple’s anonymous supporters) was stunning. But Mr. Phillips held fast when the Civil Rights Commission of Colorado severely punished him for his refusal, and even took his case to the Supreme Court. Many members of the Colorado Commission publicly expressed their contempt both for Mr. Phillips and for Christianity in general, a fact that was noted in the Supreme Court decision that came out in June.
So what was the verdict? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a vote of 7-2 that the Colorado Commission acted improperly in punishing Mr. Phillips for his actions. Only the two most liberal members of the Supreme Court, Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg, dissented. That was not surprising, since these two women have very consistently ignored what the law actually says in order to use their power to enforce a vision of society that matches their secular values.
At first glance, this decision seems like great news for religious liberty. But upon closer inspection, it is not that encouraging. That’s because the Court made the right decision, but not on firm grounds. That means that a future Supreme Court case would not necessarily rule to allow a Christian trying to follow his conscience. Specifically, some of the opinions in this case indicated that the reason that the Colorado Commission was in error was simply because they expressed hostility to the Christian faith. In other words, if they had made the same decision but not verbally expressed their hostility, they may have ruled against the baker. Not very comforting.
Interestingly, one justice brought out the point that the Commission was not being neutral to religion. Some other people tried to test the Colorado Commission by hiring bakers to print on a cake a message opposing homosexual marriage. Several bakers refused to do so, and the Commission refused to punish them for their refusal. That clear double standard made it quite clear that the Commission’s goal isn’t freedom or equal treatment of those with views opposing the baker, but instead to advance an agenda to try to force people with Christian views to drop them or get out of business altogether. Alarmingly, some of the Supreme Court justices didn’t see this double standard as a problem.
In their decisions, not all of the majority justices agreed to what was at the heart of the matter: that Mr. Phillips’ constitutional right to freedom of religion allows him to follow his conscience, without coercion, was being abridged. They didn’t even go very far into freedom of speech, neglecting to rule (as they should have) that no one should be forced to express himself in a way that contradicts what he believes. Until we get to that point, with court cases resting on those firm constitutional grounds, our religious liberty is still very much in danger. We need to pray for our President and Senate that they will appoint judges who acknowledge this most basic freedom, so it will be assured in the future. There was a great deal of damage done in the other direction by the judicial appointments made by President Obama throughout his presidency, and these are typically lifetime appointments. So far President Trump’s judicial appointments have been more favorable to religious freedom.
There will be many areas of life where Christians must zealously protect their right to practice their faith: recently we have seen important cases regarding attempts to force Christians to participate in or condone immoral things such as marriage between two men or two women; the killing of a child in the womb; financing contraception in health care; and so on. New areas could arise. Until we re-establish the principle that Christians have the right to practice their faith publicly in all areas, we cannot rest.
We should remember that it definitely matters how we vote as Christians. And we should also pray for Mr. Phillips. He continues to get hate-filled phone calls and mail and even death threats from those who seek to force affirmation of same-sex “marriage.” That harassment has increased as a result of his recent Supreme Court victory.